Mark Tullo carded a scorching four under par 68 to move into the first round lead at the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club on a day in which there were plenty of big moves in the chase for the 15 European Tour cards on offer.
The in-form Chilean fired six birdies and an eagle to move one shot clear at the summit, continuing an astounding run of form that has yielded five top tens in his last six events, including back-to-back ties for third in the two events prior to the season finale in Dubai.
The 36 year old started the week in sixth place in the Rankings, but the title of Challenge Tour Number One is still within reach if he were to emerge victorious at the breath-taking Al Badia, although he would also be reliant on other results.
Tullo was delighted with his round, which established a new course record after the course was subject to big changes since last year’s inaugural edition, and is feeling more confident with his game than ever before.
“It was a good day out there,” said the VACON Open winner. “I had a couple of mistakes out on the greens but you make some and you miss some, so it was a solid round. I hit it good off the tee and hit my irons pretty close.
“It wasn’t the easiest of days, the wind was blowing a little bit and there were some tricky shots, but I played really solid.
“You tend to relax when you’ve secured your card but I’m a very competitive kind of guy and I try to do the best that I can every tournament, wherever I am in the Rankings.
“Obviously it does help that guys in my situation are more relaxed and we can go at every pin. It does make a difference to being outside the cut line.
“Once I reached that number which secured my European Tour card, I just wanted to keep on going and I could have been up there challenging for the title the last three weeks, so I’m right there. I’m just trying to play the best golf I can.
“I have had great momentum for the last two months and it’s just pedal to the metal for me. It’s been a long stretch, but a positive one, so all the sacrifices are worth it.
“A win would be a great way to finish the season but if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t, I’m very happy with what I’ve done this year. But like I said, I’m very competitive and I will be trying my best this week.”
Max Orrin, who launched himself into this week’s 44-man field courtesy of a maiden professional title at the National Bank of Oman Golf Classic last week, was one of three players a shot off the pace at three under par.
The Englishman was thrilled to bring the momentum of his impressive victory in Muscat into the season finale with an opening 69, and admitted it was difficult to stay focussed on the job at hand after such a breakthrough moment in his career.
“I’ve obviously got no experience of getting a win and then playing the next week but it’s been fun and difficult at the same time,” said the 20 year old former Walker Cup player.
“It’s nice that it was so widely recognised but it can be difficult to get used to all the attention and the cameras. I started off today with a birdie, which really calmed me down.
“I took my chances after that and carried on from last week, holing a few putts. It’s just a course that you need to be patient on. The front nine is very difficult and I managed to keep on level par and then holed a few putts coming in.
“It’s still another week, and another tournament I’m trying to do well in, or, if I have a chance, try and win. Another win would be great but ultimately the most important thing is that even if I come 15th, I get in the top 15 in the Rankings. I don’t know what will get me in there, but I just have to keep playing, and hopefully it’s enough at the end of the week.”
Dane Lasse Jensen, who was 19th in the Rankings going into this week, has given his chances of graduation to The European Tour a big boost as he carded a three under 69 to join Orrin and Welshman Oliver Farr, who is hoping to consolidate his place inside the crucial top 15 this week, in a share of second place.
68 M Tullo (Chi) ,
69 L Jensen (Den) , O Farr (Wal) , M Orrin (Eng) ,
70 W Harrold (Eng) , B Hebert (Fra) , E Espana (Fra) ,
71 J Fahrbring (Swe) , D Coupland (Eng) , A Marshall (Eng) , A Tadini (Ita) , J Barnes (Eng) , A Velasco (Esp) ,
72 J Garcia Pinto (Esp) , A Hortal (Esp) , B Evans (Eng) , B Ritthammer (Ger) , B An (Kor) , M Delpodio (Ita) ,
73 R Coles (Eng) , J Roos (RSA) , A McArthur (Sco) , A Johnston (Eng) ,
74 A Bernadet (Fra) , N Quintarelli (Ita) , M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) , S Brown (Eng) , P Widegren (Swe) , H Joannes (Bel) , B Åkesson (Swe) ,
75 P Oriol (Esp) ,
76 M Lampert (Ger) , S Hutsby (Eng) , J Palmer (Eng) , D Gaunt (Eng) , S Henry (Sco) , J Edfors (Swe) , J Huldahl (Den) ,
77 C Shinkwin (Eng) ,
78 J Lagergren (Swe) , J Lando Casanova (Fra) , C Bouniol (Fra) ,
79 T Linard (Fra) ,
81 P Edberg (Swe)
Source: European Tour