Louis de Jager picked the perfect time to peak as he recorded the lowest round of his European Tour career to take the first round lead at the Portugal Masters.
The South African arrived at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course sat at 123rd on the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex, with only the top 115 at the end of the week certain of keeping their playing privileges for next season.
The Qualifying School graduate had made just two of his last 11 cuts but looked full of confidence as he carded a bogey free 63 to get to eight under and lead by two from Jake McLeod, Oliver Fisher and Justin Walters.
The battle for cards will be as intense as the battle for the trophy this week on the Algarve and many of the chasing pack will also have had the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex on their minds.
England’s Fisher and South African Walters started the week ranked 112th and 121st respectively, while Australian McLeod needs a top two finish to have a chance of staying on Tour.
Fisher carded the first ever 59 in European Tour history at this event last season and Walters also has a history in Vilamoura, draining a monster putt on the last in 2013 to keep his card.
De Jager has five Sunshine Tour wins to his name but is still seeking a maiden European Tour victory, with his best result a runner up finish earlier this season at the Magical Kenya Open presented by Absa.
‘I think everyone is more conscious of where they are,’ he said of the battle for playing privileges. ‘My back is against the wall a little bit, for me I can only go forward. I’m using that as extra motivation and encouragement – not that you need it but that did help a little bit.
‘The way I hit the ball and putted, the way I’m reading and seeing the lines, I’m really excited for the rest of the week. It’s only the first day but I’m feeling confident.’
Darren Fichardt, Sihwan Kim and Jeunghun Wang are all fighting for their cards this week and they were five under alongside David Horsey, Renato Paratore, Matthew Southgate and Brandon Stone.
De Jager made a flying start with birdies on the tenth and 12th and hat-trick from the 14th to turn in 31.
The 32-year-old made a gain on the second but his lead was still just one shot before he made a two putt birdie on the par five fifth and holed a 25 footer on the par three next to jump three ahead.
After birdies on the 11th and 14th helped Walters turn in 34, he put an approach to five feet on the second and picked up further shots on the third, fifth and ninth to get within two.
A hat-trick of gains from the 12th provided a perfect start for Fisher and, while he dropped a shot on the 16th, another gain came on the 18th before excellent approaches to the third and ninth sandwiched a good tee shot at the par three sixth.
McLeod was bogey free with gains on the second, fifth, seventh, 12th, 14th and 17th.
Alejandro Cañizares, Adrien Saddier and Jack Singh Brar need a good week and they were in a large group of players at four under that included World Number 29 Matt Wallace, 2018 Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjørn, two time Major winner Martin Kaymer and 2017 champion Lucas Bjerregaard.
You may also like