Shevchenko-inspired Riu soars to summit in Ukraine

9/12/2013 5:50:22 PM
Victor Riu tees off under the watchful eyes of Brinson Paolini (r) and Andriy Shevchenko (Pavel Zmey)  (EuropeanTour)
Victor Riu tees off under the watchful eyes of Brinson Paolini (r) and Andriy Shevchenko (Pavel Zmey) (EuropeanTour)
Victor Riu took inspiration from his playing partner and Ukrainian football legend Andriy Shevchenko as the Frenchman’s course-record eight under par 64 earned him a two shot lead after the opening day of the inaugural Kharkov Superior Cup.

The 28 year old, a winner on the European Challenge Tour already this year, was drawn alongside the former European Footballer of the Year as Ukraine hosted its first major professional golf tournament.

While a plethora of journalists and TV crews gathered to watch Shevchenko make his Challenge Tour debut, it was another man in the group who stole the limelight with a near flawless round at the stunning Superior Golf and Spa Resort.

His round caught fire at the fourth hole as the Parisian eagled the reachable par five before following that with successive birdies at the fifth and sixth. His only mistake of the round came at the seventh as an aggressive approach to the long par five cost him a shot but a birdie at the ninth took him to the turn in four under before four more birdies on the way home launched him to the summit.

Riu admitted that he is not a football fan but was buoyed by the jovial mood and constant encouragement from the former AC Milan and Chelsea striker, who is regarded as one of Ukraine’s best ever footballers.

“I'm very happy today,” said Riu, who won the Swiss Challenge in July and currently sits fifth in the Challenge Tour Rankings. “I played really well and my putter was on fire, I holed a lot of putts. That was surprising because it’s not very easy to read the greens.

“I made only one mistake at seven where I tried to reach the green in two but it was too dangerous. I take a lot of confidence from that round. 

“My short game has improved a lot recently and as a result my confidence is really high so I'm enjoying it right now.

“I am not a big fan of football so I didn’t really know much about Andriy but it was great to play with him. There were a lot of people watching.

“He was great. Every time I holed a putt he shook my hand of gave me a high five, he was really pushing me on to play better and cheering me when I made birdies so that was a really big help for me. I did put it up on Facebook that I was playing with him and it got a lot of responses so I knew it was a big deal!

“I'm feeling confident now with my game and I'm really relaxed so I hope this continues for the next three rounds.”

Shevchenko finished the day 12 over par and admitted that his putting had let him down but overall was delighted with the day, especially being in such esteemed company as the tournament leader.

“I'm so happy to have played with two really nice guys today,” said the 36 year old. “To play with Victor and see him shoot a course record and play fantastic golf, I learned so much about the game from the two guys.

“It’s a completely different game when you are under pressure but I really enjoyed it still and so happy to be at this tournament, even if my scoring didn’t go so good. It’s a great experience for me.”

Sihwan Kim was two shots behind Riu as the Korean signed for a six under par round of 66, which included just a single bogey. Phillip Archer of England and Dane Lucas Bjerregaard were a shot further back on five under par while there were six players on four under par.