A mixture of Gallic flair and a genuine understanding of how to play in the wind saw Frenchman Victor Dubuisson grab the lead after the first round of the Ballantine’s Championship at the Blackstone Golf Club in Icheon.
The 22 year old from Cannes tamed the troublesome gusts which swept around the south Korean venue all day to post an excellent four under par 68 to grab a two shot lead over five players, Britons Paul Casey, Richie Ramsay, Mark Foster and Jamie Donaldson, and local Korean favourite Jung Ji-ho.
Dubuisson, who came through the European Tour Qualifying School in 2010 and finished 106th in The Race to Dubai last year in his rookie season, played a lot of amateur golf for France on windy links golf courses in the United Kingdom and the Continent of Europe, and put that experience to good use on the demanding 7,281 yard Blackstone layout.
“I've played a lot of tournaments in England and Scotland the last few years as an amateur, so maybe that's why when it's windy, I do okay,” he said. “Last year at the Dunhill Links at St Andrews for example I played well.
“It’s because of all of the tournaments we played into the wind as an amateur, like the British Amateur and the Scottish Amateur etc. At all of those tournaments you got this kind of wind so that was a great experience to go through.”
With the look of a young musketeer, the Frenchman certainly plays in a similar swashbuckling style and his first round illustrated that perfectly, notching only seven par figures in total, the rest of his card made up with a double bogey, two bogeys and eight birdies.
“I don't know if it's going to be windy or not tomorrow but it doesn’t matter, I will play the same way as I did today,” he revealed. “I’ll go for every flag and try to be aggressive and I’ll not play safe tomorrow just because I am on top of the leaderboard today. It’s not my way.”
Most experienced of the chasing pack is unquestionably former Ryder Cup player Paul Casey, looking to add a 12th European Tour title to an already impressive golfing CV. Unlike Dubuisson, Casey was steadiness personified for the majority of his opening 70, his only departures from par being four birdies and two bogeys.
“I really feel like my game now is the best I've felt so far this season,” said the 34 year old. “I’m still trying to get the comfort level back on the golf course but the good thing is that there's nothing with the shoulder dislocation that's holding me back. The shoulder feels great and my body feels wonderful.
“In fact, I feel like I'm swinging it back like I did a few years ago, when I played some great golf in 2006 or 2009. I feel like the freedom is coming back but I just need to sharpen it up.
“I’ve been playing some good golf over the last couple of weeks but have just been making too many mistakes and that's what I've got to put right. That requires playing more competitive rounds of golf and just getting that edge back, because you can't compete out here unless you have that edge.
“Am I confident of winning? Well I know if I play the golf I'm capable of, I've got a very good chance to win. The way I played today, I need to keep that form going, because there's a long way to go.”
Alongside Casey, the most impressive golf of the immediate chasing pack was played by another man confident in the wind having grown up in the north east of Scotland, Aberdeen’s Richie Ramsay. The 28 year old Scot has the misfortune of carding a double bogey seven at the fifth following a fluffed chip, but elsewhere he was impressive as five birdies helped him into contention.
“It was quite cold this morning when we teed off but I played nicely in parts,” said the winner of the 2010 South African Open Championship on The European Tour. “I was a bit scrappy in parts, but to be honest, I putted beautifully on these greens which are really, really nice. All in all it was a good day.
“I played well last week in China last week, but I think this is a course that suits me more. You have to hit some really good tee shots out there with the wind, and it's playing a little bit firmer. There's a few bounces in there, so you've got to be quite accurate with your irons.
“Last week, I got off to a great start where it was quite windy again but I just didn't continue that on. But keeping going in the same vein this week and I just need to be positive and try and be a little bit more confident. Hopefully the scores will come like today.”
Eleven players finished their opening rounds on one under par 71 including one of the pre-tournament tips Adam Scott, although the World Number 12 looked far from favourite material after a disappointing start to his round which saw him card a double bogey sixth at the tenth as well as a bogey five at the 12th.
But as the weather warmed up, so did the Australian and he recovered manfully, including making birdie three at the testing ninth hole – his final hole of the day – to fire himself right back into contention for the €2.2 million Championship.
“Any score under par today is a good score especially after a rotten start where it could all get away from you,” he said. “But I hung in there and I'm not going to be too far off the pace, and that's important on a day like today. I will also, hopefully, have three good rounds coming up.”
Fading light, at the end of the day, meant the first round proper was not completed, with two matches required to return at 7.30am on Friday morning to finish up. The second round will begin, however, as scheduled at 7.00am.