Espen Kofstad leads as Ryder Cup chase begins

Espen Kofstad: Wretched year. Picture: PA
Espen Kofstad: Wretched year. Picture: PA
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Espen Kofstad shot a seven-­under 64 to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Wales Open at Celtic Manor.

After going out in the first group of the day, the Norwegian ended his round with three birdies and then an eagle at the last after holing a bunker shot.

­Kofstad, ranked at No 305, was ahead of England’s Chris Wood and Australia’s Richard Green, who shot 66s on the Twenty Ten course that hosted the 2010 Ryder Cup.

The event is the first in the qualification process for the 2014 Ryder Cup against the United States at Gleneagles. ­Europe captain Paul McGinley hit the first shot of the tournament and had a 70, but was outclassed by playing partner Kofstad.

“What a way to finish – birdie, birdie, birdie and then eagle is just fantastic,” McGinley said. “Espen hit it a million miles, hit a lot of fairways, played very well and deserved that score.”

Kofstad, 25, has endured a wretched maiden year on the European Tour after finishing the leading graduate on last year’s secondary Challenge Tour, missing nine cuts in succession from April and having a neck injury. “I have been very calm the last two weeks,” Kofstad said. “I started to settle down a bit as I was a bit stressed and tentative, and wasn’t able to practise as much as I wanted to because of my neck injury. Today, I wasn’t nervous and it felt easy.”

Italy’s Francesco Molinari, the highest-ranked player in the field at No 43, shot a 73 that included an eagle, five birdies, four bogeys and two double bogeys. Defending champion Thongchai Jaidee, who needs a strong finish to qualify for the International Team in the Presidents Cup, shot a level-par 71.

Jaidee is hoping to become the first Thai-born player to feature in the Presidents Cup, starting on 3 October at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.

Former Open champion Darren Clarke slumped to his second-worst round this year, shooting 78 on the course where, three years ago, he was a Ryder Cup vice-captain.