Justin Walters takes clubhouse lead as rain ruins opening day at The Belfry

South African golfer cards six birdies and also chips in for an eagle to lead by three

Ireland’s  Brendan Lawlor  tees off on the first  hole during day one of the ISPS Handa UK Championship at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor tees off on the first hole during day one of the ISPS Handa UK Championship at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

 

An ecstatic Justin Walters claimed the clubhouse lead in the rain-delayed ISPS Handa UK Championship at The Belfry.

Walters carded six birdies and chipped in for an eagle on the 15th to card a superb eight-under-par 64, which was completed just as heavy rain began to fall on the former Ryder Cup venue.

That rain eventually led to play being halted due to flooding shortly after 2pm and the resulting four-hour delay meant the first round was not completed on schedule.

Walters was left to enjoy a three-shot lead over Bernd Wiesberger, Joel Sjoholm, Scott Vincent and Benjamin Hebert, with former world number one Martin Kaymer and the Scottish pair of Calum Hill and Craig Howie among an eight-strong group on four under par.

Walters had missed four cuts in five events on the European Tour’s UK Swing since golf returned from the coronavirus shutdown and feared he may have “peaked” during the pandemic.

“During the lockdown I was in North Carolina and I didn’t have to face any golf courses being closed, I could practice as normal,” the South African world number 393 added.

“I played a few mini tour events and played a fair amount of golf and actually played really good golf, so I almost feel like I peaked during lockdown.

“I came back out here and I was confident, I felt like I was going to have a good run and missed three cuts by one, made one cut and didn’t finish very high with that.

“It’s been really disappointing to say the least but that’s golf, every time you expect something from it, it shows you otherwise.

“I just changed my outlook a bit and freed it up, just accepting what happens. I felt like I was swinging really well and getting nothing out of it and when that happens you start to get a bit grumpy, expecting too much out of yourself.

“The little things were starting to annoy me and I thought you know what, it’s a beautiful day – well it was earlier – just go and play and see what the game brings you because you are playing well.

“A few putts started going in, a couple of good breaks where I hit a bad shot and got away with it and that’s been lacking. To result in a 64, I’m ecstatic.”

Wiesberger was one of a number of players to fall foul of the difficult 18th as the weather deteriorated, the world number 30 dropping his only shot of the day on the last in his 67.

“I would have taken the score beforehand, [but] I had phases out there where everything kind of went my way and I was scoring easily and the last four holes it kind of broke off and felt like I lost four shots on the field,” Wiesberger said.

“I’m coming off the course and not quite that happy, but all in all I’ve got to say it was a decent start.”

Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor, who is one of the world’s top disabled golfers, was one under par after three holes of his European Tour debut before eventually signing for an 84.

The 22-year-old, who is currently fourth in the world rankings for Golfers with Disability, has a rare condition called Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, a disability characterised by a shorter stature and shorter limbs.

Paul Dunne carded a two-over 74 after completing his first round, while Jonathan Caldwell was one under for the five holes he completed before play was abandoned for the day.

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