SAUNTON, England (July 28, 2014) -- A challenging wind that invariably welcomes golfers at Saunton presented testing conditions for the opening qualifying stroke play round on the north Devon coast. It was a typical Saunton day apart from the fact that the wind blew from the north and the course was set up for a south-westerly.
That made the already difficult East and West courses even more of a challenge which is why only 16 of the field of 288 players bettered the tough pars of 71. The majority of those came, unsurprisingly, on the shorter West at 6,403 yards with internationals Ryan Evans and Joe Dean leading the way with three-under-par 68s.
Evans, a member of the England squad at the recent European Men’s Team Championships who finished joint runner-up in the Brabazon Trophy, had six birdies in his 68 but felt he hadn’t putted well.
“I played good, hit the ball better than I did at the Brabazon and had the ball under control. But I didn’t putt well,” he declared. “The closing five holes were into the wind and you have to make a good score before that. Then it is just a case of paring your way in.”
Dean, the England boy cap from Yorkshire, had five birdies in his 68 after going out in 33 strokes. Three players returned 69 on the West, Tomasz Anderson from Hertfordshire, Harry Hall from Cornwall, and Kent’s Ronan McGuirk.
“I am very happy with that,” said Anderson. “I tried to play aggressive because good scores don’t come from playing safe. This is my first time at Saunton and I like it. I had a good feel out there and found three birdies. The only down side was the bogey at the last, my only dropped shot.”
Hall had five birdies in his 69 while McGuirk found an eagle and three birdies before closing his round with seven straight pars. Among those on 70 is another boy international, Ashton Turner along with Henry Sheridan-Mills, another newcomer to Saunton who was also on the eagle trail. “It came on the third when I hit a nine-iron to 30 feet and holed the putt,” he said.
One man who went away for a sound sleep was Jordan Smith. The England international from Wiltshire had flown back from Moscow overnight after playing all four rounds in the Russian Open on the European Tour.
“I got back around midnight and then had a three-an-a-half hour drive to the course,” he said. He made his score at and eagle-three at the 12th but fatigue possible caught up with him as he had three successive bogeys in the closing five holes.
Ben Stow, the English Stroke Play champion, looking to make it a double with the English Amateur, returned 74 on the West, coming home in 33 shots with six threes.
Over on the East just four players finished in red figures, all returning one-under-par 70. They were Andrew Wilson from Darlington, Jack Gaunt from Staffordshire, Somerset’s Robert Parker and Billy McKenzie from Hampshire, who was off near the back of the field.
Three more players shot 71 including international Toby Tree, who was an early starter. “It was quite cold with a little rain when we teed off but the breeze gradually got up,” he said.
“My round was solid but nothing special but the East has a tough finish. You need to make a score then hold on. “I’ve had a couple of weeks off since the Europeans but I’ve got this then the US Amateur.”
The day was graced by a hole-in-one from Harrison Woan from Northamptonshire. It came on the 194-yard 18th on the West Course when Woan sank his tee shot with a rescue club. “It flew straight into the hole. If it hadn’t it would have gone a long way,” he said.
A year ago, Woan holed-in-one during the Carris Trophy at West Lancs, while his latest success brings his tally of ‘aces’ to six, all in competition – and he is only 19 years of age!