Kofstad impresses McGinley with a splendid opening round of 64 at Celtic Manor
Norwegian’s ‘fantastic’ finish timed to perfection alongside Ryder Cup captain
Norway’s Espen Kofstad leads the ISPS Handa Wales Open at Celtic Manor by two shots following an opening 64. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
Francesco Molinari of Italy in action during the first round of the ISPS Handa Wales Open on the Twenty Ten course at The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Norway’s Espen Kofstad came up with the perfect way to impress Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley as the qualifying race got under way in the ISPS Handa Wales Open.
Playing alongside the Irishman in the first match out at 7:25am, Kofstad birdied the first two holes and then stormed home in 29 to card a seven-under-par 64 at Celtic Manor. The 26-year-old even got a high-five from McGinley after holing a bunker shot on the 18th for an eagle to complete his round in style and set the early clubhouse target.
“What a finish,” said McGinley, who struck the opening tee shot in the morning and birdied the last for a one-under-par 70. “To finish birdie, birdie, birdie eagle is fantastic. He hit it a million miles, hit a lot of fairways, played very well and he deserved that score.”
Kofstad won the Challenge Tour last season but is 149th on the current Race to Dubai after missing eight cuts in succession following his only top-10 finish of the year at the Spanish Open in April. A neck injury also forced him to withdraw from the French Open but working with a sports psychologist has seemingly had the desired effect.
“I have been very, very calm the last two weeks,” Kofstad said. “I started to settle down a bit. I was a bit stressed and tentative and wasn’t able to practice as much as I wanted to with my neck injury. Today I wasn’t nervous and it felt really easy. I kept hitting the shots and they came off in the end. I got a little lucky I suppose holing a long putt on the 17th and the bunker shot on the last. I was only trying to get it 10-15 feet past the hole because it was a tough shot.
“It would be great to play in the Ryder Cup, although I can’t really expect a spot. But I put in a decent application today.”
McGinley is best of the Irish heading into the second round, alongside Damien McGrane on one under. Behind them, Gareth Maybin is level par, Peter Lawrie is two over and David Higgins is three over. On seven over, both Simon Thornton and Darren Clarke have their work cut out to make the cut.
England’s Chris Wood looked on course to join Kofstad in the lead, but three-putted the par five ninth for his only bogey of the day and had to settle for a five under 66 with Australia Richard Green.
“Even though I’m English I do think of this as a home event and it’s one I’d love to win,” said Wood, who eagled the short par four 15th after his drive finished just four feet from the hole.
At 112th in The Race to Dubai rankings, Green is facing a battle to keep his card after finishing in the top 100 in every year since 1999.
The left-hander’s bogey-free round was just what he needed.
“The signs are good,” he said. “I’ve been suffering a bit of tennis elbow and a bit of a dodgy right wrist and a bad shoulder, as you do when you get older.
“I’m managing them pretty well. The guys in the physio truck are looking after me pretty well and getting me fit to play. As long as I keep up that sort of work and keep fit, I’ll be all right.”
“I’ve gone 20 years in my golf career injury-free and all of a sudden in one year, I’ve got three different things bothering me.”