Standards Soar as Six of the Best Share the Lead at the JJB North West Challenge|
With six players tied at the top of the leaderboard on five under par, and 71 out of the 156 competitors under par, the European Challenge Tour Members put on a wonderful display of golf during round one of the JJB Sports North West Challenge at the Marriott Worsley Park Golf and Country Club.
The English trio of Phillip Archer, Simon Hurd and John Mellor, Zimbabwean Marc Cayeux and South African Michael Kirk all put together rounds of five under par 65 to top a highly congested and intriguing leaderboard.
By courtesy of http://www.europeantour.com
Kirk set the five under par mark early on, and he was delighted to get off to a flying start given that he has missed six out of his last seven Challenge Tour cuts. The 27 year old, who won the Stanbic Zambia Open back in March, is currently 20th on the Challenge Tour Rankings and hoping to break into the top 15 in this, his second full Challenge Tour season.
“I played nicely today and drained a couple of really long putts which was the difference really,” said Kirk. “I’m really happy with that – it is always nice to post a good first round score, especially considering the fact that I have missed six out seven cuts over the past few months.
“I just haven’t been able to get anything going. I haven’t necessarily been playing that badly, but it is comforting to know that things are coming back into shape – especially at this time of the season.
“I’ve had a strange season so far – obviously winning in Zambia was fantastic but, as I said, missing six out of seven cuts recently has been disappointing. But I feel that my game is coming back, and I am certainly a much better player than I was last year.
“My self belief has improved so much, especially after recording my first victory because last season I had a couple of second place finishes and other chances to win but I didn’t handle it too well coming down the stretch.
“Last season was my first year on the Challenge Tour and looking back I can see how much it has helped with my development, and not just on the golf course. Coming from South Africa, I hadn’t travelled much in Europe before last season, and this year I can feel the benefit of my first season.”
Cayeux, like Kirk a Challenge Tour champion already this season after capturing the Kenya Open the week after Kirk’s win in Zambia, was the last of the leaders to post his 65.
The 26 year old, however, was going through contrasting emotions to those of Kirk in the immediate aftermath of his opening round. After starting the day with a bogey, Cayeux was seven under through 15 holes, but dropped two shots on his final three holes to join the five others on five under.
“I’m annoyed at myself for dropping three shots,” he said. “To me, any round of golf that contains three bogeys is a bad one. I know it is only the first round and that I am in a great position but it still hurts to give shots back the way I did.”
“I really felt good out there at points today – I could feel a good round in me so that is why I am so annoyed, because when I get hot on the golf course I can put together some really low scores.”
In between Kirk and Cayeaux, the three Englishman came storming in to post their respective 65s.
Archer lives just a few miles from the Marriott Worsley Park Golf and Country Club in Warrington and is hoping to lean on his home advantage over the weekend.
He said: “I played nicely and just had the one blip when I double bogeyed the 16th. I wedged into the bunker and did not get the ball out at the first attempt and took six.
“Home advantage is a big help although this is not the same course I played last year. It’s completely different and what they have achieved here since then is incredible. They've worked wonders.
“I'm happy with my score. I'll take each day as it comes and keep doing the same things. There's no reason why I can’t win.”
It was no surprise to see Mellor joining in at the top end of the leaderboard. The 34 year old hardly swung a club during 2002 due to illness but has been playing some beautiful golf of late – finishing in the top 20 in four of his last five Challenge Tour starts and getting to 18th on the Rankings.
“I started on the back nine today and played really solid, hitting the ball very well and I also had the bonus of holing my bunker shot on the 16th which is always nice,” he said.
“My only real mistake of the day was on the fourth when I hooked my five iron into the sand and was punished for it by a terrible stance in the bunker. But apart from that it felt good.
“Since I came back I have gradually been playing better, and this season I have been putting some really good score on the board. The next step is making sure that I can put four good ones together at the same tournament and start winning some events.”