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Late moves make it a three-way tie in Girona

Late moves make it a three-way tie in Girona

Darren Fichardt and Jeff Winther made late charges up the leaderboard to join Oliver Bekker at the summit after day one of the 2022 Catalunya Championship.

Jeff Winther

In-form South African Bekker had set the target at six under with a 66 and as the wind got up in the afternoon, it did not look like he would be caught at PGA Catalunya Golf and Wellness.

But countryman Fichardt reeled off six birdies in eight holes after the turn to pass him, only for a double-bogey on the last to drop him back alongside Bekker and Winther, who made four birdies in five holes from the 11th.

German Sebastian Heisele, China's Li Haotong and Englishman James Morrison were then at five under.

European Challenge Tour graduate Bekker has full playing privileges on the DP World Tour for the first time in his career this season and has certainly been making a big impression.

The seven-time Sunshine Tour winner has five top-tens from nine starts, including a career-best tie for third at the Steyn City Championship.

"I'm pretty happy, it’s tricky out there, it’s a tough golf course and you are just keeping your head down and trying to hit a good shot every time you step out there," he said.

"It punishes you if you hit it off line so very, very happy. If you get a little bit off line, as I did on the tenth and made a double, you are going to get punished.

"You can never relax, that’s the thing around this golf course."

Fichardt has seen it all before with five wins on the DP World Tour and arrived in Girona off the back of a top-ten at last week's ISPS Handa Championship in Spain.

"I played really solid," he said. "I know it is a tough golf course, you have to keep the ball in play off the tee and make sure you get chances.

"Last week I hadn’t played well in quite a while, I had injuries at the beginning of the year so I took three weeks off in South Africa and I came and played really well but my confidence was low so I was playing quite protective golf last week, just wanted to get a good result and I did that.

"This week is pretty similar sort of game playing, very defensive golf course. Last week and this week, you can’t attack, you can’t be too aggressive, you have to be very patient and accept the fact that you are going to make mistakes. Try to get on the fairway and try to get in the hole."

Winther claimed his maiden DP World Tour title on Spanish soil at last season's Mallorca Golf Open and is now looking for another win in an inaugural event.

"I played solid, hit a lot of fairways - you have to out here," he said. "Had lovely iron shots here and there and made a few good putts, so can’t complain. 

"I’m playing solid, had one bad iron shot today, but I managed to save that. I’m all ready for tomorrow hopefully.

"It’s very important just to keep your game flowing, keep thinking positive, because you have a lot of chances if you hit the fairways. The greens are still a bit soft so you can spin them out quite easily. Three-quarter iron shots have been the way for me today."

Bekker birdied the first, fifth and seventh and, while he made a double-bogey on the tenth, he bounced back with a hat-trick of gains and also made birdies on the 15th and 17th.

That target of six under did not look like it would be equalled, never mind beaten, but Fichardt appeared to have other ideas.

He made gains on the second and third and then went on an incredible run on the back nine, picking up shots on the tenth, 12th and 13th before joining the lead with a six-footer on the 15th.

Further gains on the 16th and 17th had him two clear but that double-bogey on the last moved him back to six under, where Winther had joined Bekker.

The 34-year-old turned in 33 with gains on the first, third and eighth but made a bogey on the tenth. He then made three birdies in a row from the 11th and added another on the 15th.

Li, who is returning to form with two top-tens in his last three starts, eagled the par-five 12th and then made birdies on the 13th, first and third before bogeying the fourth and making a sixth gain of the day on the eighth.

Heisele found himself at five under with birdies on the second, third, eighth, ninth and 12th but made a double-bogey on the 13th. He hit back brilliantly with an eagle on the par-five 15th but gave a shot back on the next before birdieing the last.

Morrison made just five pars, registering four bogeys and three birdies as he turned in 37 before making six gains on the back nine.

Home favourite Adri Arnaus, French duo Julien Brun and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, South African Hennie du Plessis and Austrian Lukas Nemecz were at four under.

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