Rhys Davies returned to the form which earned him one European and two Challenge Tour titles with a sparkling round of 65 on the opening day of the inaugural Foshan Open.
Davies has endured a spell in the doldrums recently but the Welshman was back to his brilliant best in Foshan City, China, notching seven birdies in a flawless display at Foshan Golf Club to set a new course record and share the first round lead with Australian Scott Arnold.
The 28 year old burst into life on The European Tour in 2010 on the back of a stunning Challenge Tour season which yielded victories in his native Wales and Spain. He then took the step up to the top tier in his stride, winning in Morocco en route to finishing in 18th place in The Race to Dubai.
Since then the boy from Bridgend has found the going rather tougher, but he believes a return to his former glories could be just around the corner after rediscovering his touch with the putting stroke which has been hailed by many observers as amongst the best in the game.
Davies said: “I think I had 25 putts today, which is probably my best putting display for quite a while. It surprised me a little because these greens are quite difficult to read with the grain and the slopes, but I’ve played quite a lot in Asia so I’m probably more used to them than some of the other guys. It’s been a tough season but I’m slowly getting my form and confidence back, and today was another step in the right direction.”
Davies also revealed that, having flown to China from America, his body clock was haywire and so he has decided to stick to an unusual sleeping pattern this week.
He said: “I’ve been going to bed around five o’clock and waking up at four in the morning, which obviously isn’t ideal but at least it meant I was wide awake when I teed off at 7.40 this morning. It’s just as well I don’t need to do much work on my game this afternoon, as I might fall asleep on the range! Obviously if I have an afternoon tee time later in the week I may need to adjust my sleeping pattern, but it’s working fine for me so far.”
Arnold was also an early riser, but he made light of any lingering lethargy by blitzing the front nine in just 33 strokes. He went one better on the back nine with the highlight coming on the par five 13th hole, where he drilled a three-iron to 12 feet and duly sunk the putt for an eagle.
Having slipped to 84th place in the Challenge Tour Rankings, the Sydney native will need to finish the season with a flourish if he is to retain The European Tour card he earned at the Qualifying School last year. But with more than US$1million up for grabs over the next three weeks, Arnold could have timed his run to perfection.
The former World Amateur Number One said: “I’m delighted with the way I played today, other than a couple of poor drives which cost me bogeys, it was pretty much flawless golf. So it was nice to get off to a good start but I did the same in Kazakhstan then came unstuck at the weekend, so I won’t be taking anything for granted over the next three days.”
Davies’ playing partner Sam Walker and his fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton currently share third place on six under par. Walker found himself one over par through four holes, but plundered seven birdies in his next 14 holes to sign for his lowest opening round of the season.
Having found water from the tee at the final hole, Hatton was grateful to salvage par with a clutch putt from six feet.
Thanks chiefly to his tied second finish in last month’s money-spinning Kazakhstan Open, Hatton is currently in possession of the 15th and final card available for The 2014 European Tour International Schedule. With US$350,000 on offer to the field this week, a repeat of his performance in Kazakhstan would effectively clinch a place on the top tier for Hatton, who did his chances no harm at all with seven birdies and a solitary bogey in his round of 66.
The leading Chinese player is Yuan Tian, who is in a tie for 15th place on two under par alongside the Rankings leader, Italian Andrea Pavan.