'Composed' Euan Walker off to strong start in Challenge Tour Grand Final

What a day for the Caledonian connection. Euan Walker, the sole Scot in the field, sits at the top of the leaderboard after the opening round of the Challenge Tour’s Grand Final in Mallorca and alongside him is the Scottish Challenge champion, Spaniard Javier Sainz.

Euan Walker during the first round of the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final supported by The R&A Club de Golf Alcanada in Mallorca. Picture: Octavio Passos/Getty Images.
Euan Walker during the first round of the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final supported by The R&A Club de Golf Alcanada in Mallorca. Picture: Octavio Passos/Getty Images.

The pair carded matching four-under-par 68s at Club de Golf Alcanada in Port d'Alcúdia, where, after a week of near-perfect conditions so far, it is set to get tasty for the second round due to the wind expected to gust up to 40-45mph in the afternoon.

As a precaution, play will start early from two tees, but, if it was a case of trying to make some headway on the opening day then trying to grind it out on Friday, it was certainly job done for Troon man Walker.

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The 27-year-old has clearly been handed a huge confidence boost by landing his breakthrough win in the British Challenge at St Mellion in Cornwall towards the end of the regular season and this effort was mighty impressive.

Euan Walker and caddie Tim Poyser worked well together at Club de Golf Alcanada in Alcudia. Picture: Octavio Passos/Getty Images.
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Looking very relaxed from the start, he hardly put a foot wrong, expertly plotting his way around the front nine, where numerous players came a cropper on the undulating Robert Trent Jones jnr-designed layout, before opening his shoulders a bit in coming home in 32, four-under.

“A really good first round,” a smiling Walker told The Scotsman afterwards. “I played nicely and had a couple of breaks as well. I holed a long putt at the par-3 14th that was charging past quite a bit but caught the hole and went in. I holed a lovely long one on 15th as well, though that one was perfect weight.”

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He’d started the week sitting 21st in the Road to Mallorca Rankings, but there was no sign whatsoever of the 2019 African Amateur champion being burdened by pressure as he bids to climb into the top 20 on Sunday night and secure a step up to the DP World Tour next season. “I was as relaxed as I can be,” he said. “I was obviously a bit nervous to begin with, but I just have to go out there and play the best I can - that’s all I can do.”

As well as having a lovely smooth swing, Walker gets on with it, which certainly couldn’t be said of his two playing partners in this round, Frenchman Jeong weon Ko and Pole Mateusz Gradecki.

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Spain's Javier Sainz tees off at the first hole at Club de Golf Alcanada in the Challenge Tour Grand Final. Picture: Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images.

“I said to Tim [Poyser, his caddie] that I probably take longer than I need to,” said Walker, laughing. “I could probably play just as well taking less time, but the way you grow up playing golf in Scotland as a junior is generally pretty quick. You get to it and hit it - and that’s what I was doing today.”

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On this evidence, it looks like a masterstroke having Poyser, who caddied for his compatriot at the 2019 DP World Tour Qualifying School, back on the bag this week. “Tim was great today and he made a great call on the tenth tee to hit a 3-iron rather than a 3-wood,” he said. “Where we put the ball was perfect and I made birdie from there.”

Poyser, an experienced DP World Tour caddie, certainly liked what he saw from the man hitting the shots. “His mentality is probably the best thing about him,” declared the Edinburgh man of Walker. “He’s got all the shots, but he’s so composed. He’s not bothered about the situation and we were just chatting away out there. I know it’s only Thursday, but that was impressive out there.”

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Walker’s mum and dad, Rhona and Eric, followed him round and it’s easy to see where he gets his lovely demeanour. “I think they are quite relaxed this week as we are happy to be here,” he said. “Maybe my mum is nervous inside, I don’t know.”

On the back of his great day’s work, Walker has jumped to third in the projected ranks, but, being a very clever young man, there’s no chance of him getting ahead of himself. “Definitely not,” he insisted. “There’s a long way to go, but, if I keep playing like that, we will be absolutely fine and that’s the challenge, isn’t it, taking your good golf from one day and then playing the same the next day.”

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And that’s going to be difficult if the wind is as strong as they are predicting. “I think you’ve got to just get the head down,” said Walker. “It is going to be difficult as the greens are really firm and really fast. Probably a few people will be made to look a bit silly.”

Sainz, a 29-year-old who grew up playing golf with Jon Rahm, effectively secured his place in the 45-man field this week by winning the Farmfoods Scottish Challenge in a play-off at Newmachar back in May.

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“I think I gained a lot of confidence in my game,” he said of that success after also making his score with four birdies in a bogey-free inward journey. “I didn’t play as well as I expected in the total season, but, when I am in a good position, I think I am a better player and I think it helped me a lot.”

He’s been off the boil a bit since that win and was 36th in the standings coming in here. “Yeah, maybe the expectations were not good for me as the season went along, but you learn every week,” he added.

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As for that tough test on its way in the second round, Sainz said it was a case of ‘bring it on’ essentially. “I like it when the weather is like it is in Scotland,” he confessed, laughing. “I like when it is windy because the rounds are more around par and I feel that suits me better.”

The pair sit one ahead of Ko, as well as England’s Todd Clements and German Alexander Knappe.

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