Espen Kofstad (Getty Images)
A blistering finish from Espen Kofstad saw the Norwegian set the pace on day one of the ISPS Handa Wales Open.
Playing with Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley in the first group out on the day qualification for next year’s side begins; Challenge Tour winner Kofstad birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th before producing an eagle three at the last at The Celtic Manor Resort.
That saw the Norwegian finish with a seven under par 64 over the Twenty ten Course that hosted The Ryder Cup three years ago.
Kofstad finished the day two clear of England’s Chris Wood and Australian Richard Green, with Tjaart Van Der Walt, Mark Foster and Gregory Bourdy on four under.
McGinley had started the points race with a bogey, but recovered to shoot a one under 70 and high-fived the 26 year old Kofstad after holing a bunker shot on the last.
"What a finish," said McGinley. "To finish birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle is fantastic.
"He hit it a million miles, hit a lot of fairways, played very well and he deserved that score."
Kofstad won the Challenge Tour last season but is 149th on The Race to Dubai after missing eight cuts in succession following his only top-ten finish of the year at the Open de España in April.
A neck injury also forced him to withdraw from the French Open but working with a sports psychologist has seemingly had the desired effect.
"I have been very, very calm the last two weeks," Kofstad said. "I started to settle down a bit. I was a bit stressed and tentative and wasn't able to practice as much as I wanted to with my neck injury.
"Today I wasn't nervous and it felt really easy. I kept hitting the shots and they came off in the end. I got a little lucky I suppose holing a long putt on the 17th and the bunker shot on the last. I was only trying to get it ten-15 feet past the hole because it was a tough shot.
"It would be great to play in the Ryder Cup, although I can't really expect a spot. But I put in a decent application today."
Wood looked on course to join Kofstad in the lead, but three-putted the par five ninth for his only bogey of the day and had to settle for a five under 66.
"Even though I'm English I do think of this as a home event and it's one I'd love to win," said Wood, who eagled the short par four 15th after his drive finished just four feet from the hole.
"It's nice to be able to stay at home this week, dinner is on the table when you walk in the door, and I treated my caddie to a Bristol City game on Tuesday.
"We beat Crystal Palace in the Capital One Cup so I think he got lucky. It's probably the best I have seen them play for a couple of years so I think Brendan is now a bit of a closet fan."
Green has finished in the top 100 on The Race to Dubai every year since 1999, but at 112th he faces a battle just to retain his card.
A birdie-free effort today certainly helped the left-hander’s cause, and afterwards he said: “The signs are good. I've been suffering a bit of tennis elbow and a bit of a dodgy right wrist and a bad shoulder, as you do when you get older.
“I'm managing them pretty well. The guys in the physio truck are looking after me pretty well and getting me fit to play. As long as I keep up that sort of work and keep fit, I'll be all right.”
“I've gone 20 years in my golf career injury-free and all of a sudden in one year, I've got three different things bothering me.”