George Coetzee of South Africa took advantage of ideal conditions Thursday to earn a one-stroke lead in the first round of the European Tour’s Austrian Open after shooting a 7-under 65.
Playing early in the morning before gusting winds made conditions tougher at Diamond Country Club, Coetzee made eight birdies and only one bogey to bolster his hopes of retaining his European Tour card.
Although small by main European Tour standards, Sunday’s $163,000 winner’s check would be welcomed by Coetzee, who lies 142nd on the money list in his first season. Only the top 115 automatically retain their playing privileges for 2011.
Equally eager to earn a big check toward keeping his playing card is Jose Manuel Lara, who was 172nd on the list. The Spaniard has had a poor year, making only seven cuts in 24 starts.
But among the afternoon players, Lara was the only player to get alongside Coetzee. However, he failed to make par on the 18th after missing the green with his approach and shot a 6-under 66.
That gave him a share of second place alongside Australian Terry Pilkadaris, with Ireland’s Damien McGrane lying third after a 65.
Of the two Europe Ryder Cup players in the field, U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell fared best, shooting a 3-under 69.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, who started on the 10th tee, shot 72 but struggled for consistency. He made five birdies but had a double bogey at the 17th, where he found water.
McDowell, in his first tournament after a four-week rest, didn’t start well by bogeying two of his first three holes, but he covered the back nine in just 31 shots.
“I made an awful drive at three,” McDowell said. “I hit the ground two feet behind the ball and it went straight into the middle of a bush. But I hung in tough and drove the ball well on the second nine and made a few putts.
“This week in Austria is all about getting my game in shape and playing some good competitive golf before I head to Celtic Manor (for the Ryder Cup),” he explained. “I want to go there with my game in shape because it’s a tough week to have to be working on things there.”