Alejandro Canizares leads in Agadir
Michael Hoey best of the Irish on four under, six off the Spaniard’s lead in Morocco
Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland ponders a shot during the first round of the Trophee du Hassan II Golf at Golf du Palais Royal in Agadir, Morocco. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Spain’s Alejandro Canizares carded a brilliant 62 to claim the lead after the first round of the Hassan Trophy in Morocco on Thursday.
Canizares shrugged off the windier conditions faced by the afternoon starters to fire 11 birdies and one bogey at Golf du Palais Royal, although that was only one ahead of England’s Seve Benson.
“It was one of those days for me, my swing felt great, I started putting well and the putts went in,” Canizares told Sky Sports after the lowest round of his European Tour career. “It was a lot of fun, when golf is like this it’s easy.
“After today the confidence is great but it wasn’t there for the last month. After Dubai I started losing a little bit of form but this game is up and down so you can’t expect the best all the time. I was lucky that after a couple of sessions with my coach and a putting session with Phil Kenyon this week it’s started getting a lot easier so I am very happy to perform well this week.
“I think I played one of the best rounds I’ve played. I missed a couple of drives and from the fairway I missed one shot that cost me a bogey, but that was about it I think.”
Benson, who was named after the late Seve Ballesteros, carded a flawless 63 that featured birdies at his last four holes as he looks to claim a first European Tour title in his 104th event.
“It felt pretty good to be honest,” the 27-year-old from Guildford said. “It was so windy out there on the back nine pars were a good score, but I just managed to play the tough holes well and sink some putts. Capitalising on my chances is the big thing for me. I have been working really hard with my putting coach and it paid off today.
“Going out there in the morning you’d fancy your chances for the best round of the day, it’s never easy playing in a 15mph wind so I am really proud of myself. When it all comes together it’s great, it’s not how good your good shots are, it’s how good your bad shots are and today that was key. It’s what gets you up into contention.”
The brilliant scoring from Canizares and Benson kept American Connor Arendell off the top of the leaderboard, a player who is ranked 1,511th in the world and has career earnings of exactly zero on the European Tour. Arendell finished eighth at the qualifying school in November to earn his card for this season, but missed the cut in his first four events of 2014.
“It’s a great start,” said the 23-year-old from Florida. “I gave both tours a try, q-school wise, but I just think this is the best thing for me now that the PGA has done away with getting your card (through qualifying). I am not a huge fan of that so I wanted to give this a try and it’s worked out so far.
“I think it’s huge, coming over here getting that experience, the travelling; week to week the courses vary quite a bit compared to the US so you are working a lot on getting used to the greens and the courses. It’s tough, but I think over time it will make it that much easier when I’m in the US.”
Arendell is following in the footsteps of the likes of Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka in swapping America for Europe, adding: “I spoke to Peter a little online asking what to expect when I came over. They have done great so far and I think you will see more Americans (on the European Tour).”
Arendell’s 65 was matched by Sweden’s Magnus A Carlsson, with English pair Tommy Fleetwood and Andy Sullivan and Scot Marc Warren a shot further back on six under. Defending champion Marcel Siem, who missed Wednesday’s pro-am with a neck injury, returned a 69.
Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey was four under after a 68, two ahead of Damien McGrane (70) and four ahead of Shane Lowry (72). Simon Thornton was a shot further adrift, while Paul McGinley, David Higgins, Kevin Phelan and Peter Lawrie were well off the pace on four over.