Callum Shinkwin surges into lead at Czech Masters

Englishman leads by a shot from a trio of challengers

Callum Shinkwin of England putts on the 12th green during day one of the D+D REAL Czech Masters at Albatross Golf Resort in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Callum Shinkwin of England putts on the 12th green during day one of the D+D REAL Czech Masters at Albatross Golf Resort in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

 

England’s Callum Shinkwin showed no signs of rust as he carded an opening 66 to claim the lead in the D+D Real Czech Masters, the first qualifying event for next year’s Ryder Cup.

Shinkwin has not played competitively since following a play-off defeat in the Scottish Open by missing the cut in the Open, but carded eight birdies and two bogeys to head the leaderboard at Albatross Golf Resort.

It was a disappointing day for Irish duo Gary Hurley and Darren Clarke as they carded a 71 and a 73 respectively.

At six under, Shinkwin led by a shot from compatriot James Heath, South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli and Sweden’s Pontus Widegren, with Scotland’s Craig Lee part of an eight-strong group on four under.

Defending champion Paul Peterson was a shot further back alongside 2014 winner Jamie Donaldson, with 2015 champion and last year’s runner-up Thomas Pieters on one under following a 71.

Shinkwin bogeyed the 72nd hole of the Scottish Open before losing on the first play-off hole to Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, but the 24-year-old admitted the performance had been a major confidence boost.

“It was massive,” the former English Amateur champion said. “I played the Open afterwards and missed the cut and I’ve had five weeks off, but the confidence has still been there, even playing at home.

“I didn’t do too much the first few weeks but then I got back out there and was still swinging it well which was quite nice. I played pretty solid, got off to a nice start, played the par fives well and holed my fair share of putts.”

While Ryder Cup qualifying will now be on the minds of European players, South African Frittelli has his sights set on staking a claim for a place on the International team for next month’s Presidents Cup.

Even a second European Tour title of the season would not be enough to qualify automatically, but captain Nick Price will select two wild cards to complete his 12-man side next Wednesday.

“Every international player wants to make that team so I’m going to try and make a statement this week and give Nick Price a reason to look at me,” said Frittelli, who will be closely watched by assistant captain Tony Johnstone, in Prague in his role as a television commentator.

“I saw Tony (on Wednesday) on the course and we chatted a little bit but I tried to avoid the subject just to not be partisan in any way! But hopefully I can play well this week and make it an easier decision for them.”

England’s Eddie Pepperell looked certain to overhaul Shinkwin when he played his first eight holes in six under par thanks to an eagle and four birdies, but the 26-year-old carded two double bogeys on his back nine to finish three under.

“(It was) a game of two halves,” Pepperell told Sky Sports. “I never felt hugely comfortable out there but I putted well all day. Got hot through eight or nine holes and then a couple of bad shots cost me, but three under on a Thursday is pretty good for me.”

Pre-tournament favourite Pieters also made a flying start with birdies on the first two holes and was three under at the turn, but bogeys on the 11th and 15th left the Ryder Cup star five shots off the pace.

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