Joost Luiten started his quest for a second Austrian Open title with a seven under par 65, taking a one stroke lead into the second round as the European Tour and European Challenge Tour seasons resumed at Diamond Country Club.
Both the 2020 Race to Dubai and 2020 Road to Mallorca were suspended on March 8 due the global coronavirus pandemic, with this week’s dual-ranking event marking the restart of both Tours almost four months to the day after the stoppage.
Luiten won his second European Tour title at this very venue in 2013 and channelled his fond memories of this course as he birdied five of the first seven holes. The 34-year-old then birdied three of his four closing holes to move one ahead of Scotland’s Craig Howie, who set the early pace with a bogey-free six under par.
Howie was joined on that number by compatriot Marc Warren, aided by an eagle on the par five 15th and a birdie on the last for a round of 66.
Another Scot, Connor Syme, sits in fourth place on five under par alongside Philip Eriksson of Sweden, Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard, and Italian Lorenzo Scalise.
Miguel Angel Jiménez, marked his 705th European Tour start with a four under par round of 68. The evergreen Spaniard is just one appearance behind Sam Torrance’s record set more than a decade ago. He is joined by nine other golfers in a share of eighth.
As per all events on the reshaped 2020 Race to Dubai, the Austrian Open is governed by the European Tour’s comprehensive Health Strategy, which will see healthcare specialists Cignpost deliver rapid on-site COVID-19 screening.
In order to help mitigate risk, all players, caddies and on-site personnel will be tested, and participants will operate within national public health guidelines, including social distancing and following enhanced hygiene directives.
Joost Luiten: “I’ve got good memories here. For some reason I like this place, I’ve played well here a few times. It’s good to come back after a four-month break and have my game in order and shoot seven under. A lot of us didn’t know where we stood with our games, it’s good to have a fast start and bring in a good score.
“Everything was working well. I hit it well off the tee, didn’t miss many greens, holed a couple of putts and hit my irons close. Just one bogey – you have to keep the mistakes off your card here because it’s a tricky golf course if you’re out of position. I stayed in position a lot and made some nice birdies.
“Tournament golf: you don’t lose it. It’s still the same as before. On the outside there’s a couple of changes, but when you’re out there you have to hit the shots, stay focused, stay patient and play your own game.”
Craig Howie: “Absolutely delighted. I wasn’t really sure what to expect after four months off, so that was a surprise. It was good though. It’s the first time I’ve had a bogey-free round in a long time. That was pretty satisfying, particularly on such a tough golf course.
“It was playing OK this morning. There was no wind so it really was perfect conditions. The greens are so good, so that makes putting a little easier and you can then build a score.
“With my category, I’ve only ever had one opportunity to play on the European Tour before. To have the opportunity to play a European Tour dual ranking event is great. It’s a lot more money as well, so there is a lot to play for.”
Marc Warren: “I’m very pleased. You’re never quite sure what it’ll be like once you’re out on the course. Strangely enough, with no crowds, it was just like playing at home over the last few weeks. That was going through my head, keeping my game free, hitting the ball and seeing where it goes and then finding it again rather than overthinking it.
“I’m carrying my own bag for the first time in 15 or 16 years – Ken (Herring) didn’t get his test back in time, unfortunately. So that was that.”
“We got to the middle of the front nine and then the wind really picked up. You have to play well to shoot a good score on this golf course anyway. A few really tough tee shots and tough greens, sometimes you have to miss on the right sides of the greens to score well. I managed to do that in the middle of the round.”