SAINT-OMER, France -- Tjaart Van der Walt of South Africa made five birdies and a bogey Thursday to card a 4-under 67 and lead by one stroke after the first round of the Najeti Hotels Open on the European Tour.
Frenchman Victor Riu had a strong finish with two birdies and an eagle in his last three holes to be in second place.
Daniel Brooks of England was third despite dropping four shots in his first five holes. He recovered with two birdies and two eagles to card a 69.
Daniel Gaunt of Australia and Olivier Rozner of France shared fourth place at 1-under.
"I managed the ball really well today," Van der Walt said. "The course really suits my eye. I didn't play this event last year, but I like it here and if you play well here, anything is possible."
Ranked 121st on the European Tour, Van der Walt was a runner-up at the Africa Open last year in South Africa.
In extremely windy conditions at Aa Saint Omer Golf Club in northern France, Van der Walt started steadily with seven pars after teeing off at the 10th early in the day. Birdies at the 17th and 18th took him to the turn in 2 under and three birdies on the back nine, allied with a single bogey handed him the outright lead.
Van der Walt has had limited starts in the Race to Dubai this season, but believes a good week at Saint Omer could turn his fortunes around.
“You have to take your opportunities on tour and I didn’t opt to play this one last year,” he said. “I think this year it could be a good decision. I am not in the field for the BMW International Open next week and a good finish here could maybe get me in there. If I keep playing well, anything is possible so we’ll see what happens.”
After the superb finish to his opening round, Riu is hoping to carry that confidence into his second round and push on after a steady, if somewhat unspectacular, start to the season.
“I have only missed one cut this year but I haven’t been good enough at the weekends so I need to be more consistent all week from now on and hopefully I can start here,” he said. “I want to try and keep the momentum going from that finish today and stay in a good state of mind and I think the weather will be nicer so it will be good.”
The third-placed Brooks of England produced a marvelous comeback after a triple bogey at the 14th, his fifth, meant he was 4 over through five holes before two birdies and two eagles earned him his unlikely 69.
Brooks’ compatriot Simon Dyson sits five shots off the lead after three bogeys in the final four holes meant he had to settle for a 1-over 72.