On a low scoring opening day at the Foshan Open, the pair of Ricardo Gouveia (pictured by Richard Castka) and Jason Palmer made themselves the men to beat through 18 holes after seven under par scores of 65 in China.
They are a shot clear of a chasing pack that includes Jason Barnes, Bernd Ritthammer and the leading Chinese player, Liang Ding-feng, in a tie for third, while there are a another five players one further back as play was suspended for darkness with just two players left on the course.
For Gouveia it was very much a case of business as usual – certainly of late for the Portuguese rookie – as he picked up where he left off three weeks ago en route to a maiden title at the EMC Golf Challenge Open in Rome.
After time spent at home working on his game, the 23 year old has arrived in Foshan City in high spirits and keen on earning himself a place in the top 45 on the Rankings, in order to earn a starting berth at the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club.
He may have still been feeling the effects of jetlag on Thursday, but it did nothing to harm his game, as he carded five birdies and an eagle in Southern China.
“I just played really solid today and I didn’t make any mistakes,” said the man attached to Vilamoura. “It was my goal just to put the ball in play and then play smart to the greens, as they are very sloped. I did a great job though, and I’m really happy with the score.
“It is pretty wide, and there is only trouble if you go off line, but if you put it in play it is OK. You just have to hit it to the best spots on the green to have a chance at making a putt. I’m especially happy though as I only slept for an hour last night as I am still jetlagged, so I was a bit like a zombie on the front nine, but really happy with the round.
“I had a rough patch in the summer, and I knew it was going to be different as a professional with ups and downs, but I have got my game back at the right time and it feels really good. I’m happy with how I’m playing now.”
Also leading the way after an exemplary opening salvo is Palmer, who is currently in the midst of his best season on the second tier, after a top three finish at the Belgian Challenge was followed by a tie for sixth at Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge.
Those, plus a few other solid results, have the Englishman at 51st in the Rankings having never finished higher than 87th three years ago.
As another man with his eye on a place in the field for the circuit’s Dubai finale, Palmer was suitably impressed by his opening round, as he carded five birdies and an eagle of his own to buck a trend that has dogged much of his season.
“I’m chuffed with that today,” said the 30 year old. “I’ve kind of struggled so far this year with my first round scoring, so it is nice to get off to a flying start. It was strange as I had a terrible warm up session, and often that’s the way, you then go out without any expectations and I was lucky I hit a good first tee shot and away I went.
“We’ve played a few courses lately that have been pretty wide open and more suited to the bombers, whereas I’m not the longest hitter – I’m probably one of the shortest out here – but it is more about precision into the greens with the way the slopes are.
“You need to control your distance because you are better off having ten feet up the hill than six feet down it sometimes because the greens are really tricky. I really like the course though, it is a great set up.
“I’m just delighted to still be out here minimum for next year, but at 51st on the Rankings, I’m really trying to give it everything. I’m not into Dubai yet so I want to try and get in there, and that would be a bonus, but I am just enjoying it.
“If I can keep playing like that, then I’m sure I’ll do OK, but it is very much a case of taking it one step at a time. You could easily turn up tomorrow and not have a golf swing, which has been the way for me this season. Hopefully I’ll swing how I did today though and I can shoot some good scores.”
The English trio of Ben Evans, Daniel Gaunt and William Harrold are in a tie for sixth at five under par alongside Denmark’s Jeppe Huldahl and He Ze-yu, who is the second highest placed Chinese player.
Narrowly outside the top ten are a further seven players including Chris Hanson, Andrew McArthur, Pedro Oriol, Max Orrin, Chris Paisley, Jack Senior and Pontus Widegren, who all finished four under after 18 holes in a share of 11th place.
Former World Amateur Number One Mathew Fitzpatrick posted a shot more in a tie for 18th, while the highest ranked player in the field – Byeong-hun An – is well down the field at one over par and sharing 57th spot.
Filippo Bergamaschi and Steven Tiley – both one under through 17 holes – are the only two left to come back and finish their opening round on Friday morning.
Source: European Tour