Sweden’s Hugo Townsend raced out of the blocks and took the overnight lead on the first day of the Junior Open Championship at West Lancashire Golf Club where local favourite Hollie Muse also played her way into contention.
Townsend made a dream start with five birdies in his first six holes and from there consolidated his position with the only sub par round of the day. He signed for a two-under-par 70 to lead by two from Ireland’s Kevin Leblanc in second and India’s Aditi Ashok in third (73).
“I had a great start, five-under after six holes, but knew I couldn’t keep that pace because it’s so tough out there, so I just tried to keep the ball in play,” explained the 15-year-old, who is the son of Peter Townsend, former Ryder Cup player (1969, 71).
“Stay out of trouble and be patient, that was my plan. I thought getting home in one or two-under would be a good score, especially as the last five holes are very, very tough,” added the two-handicap golfer of a testing links where Italy’s Matteo Mannasero won the Amateur Championship in 2009.
Although born in Ireland, Townsend has lived in Sweden for the last decade and enjoys the challenges of links golf. “You need all the shots to play links golf, it suits my game.”
Leblanc was the early leader and his level par round was a fine effort considering he had never seen the course before.
“I played well, especially as I didn’t get a practice round,” said the 15-year-old, who only arrived at the Lancashire venue the previous night after competing at the European Boys Championship in Norway.
“The main objective was to hit fairways and greens and hole the odd putt. It’s a tough but fair course. Club selection, especially on the par threes, was difficult.
“That said I’m used to tough links conditions coming from The Island Golf Club (north of Dublin). I guess these conditions feel like home to me,” added the plus-two handicapper, who mixed four birdies with as many bogeys.
Muse is equally adept with the vagaries of links golf and the 14-year-old also put her local knowledge to good use. Despite four-putting the ninth green, she rallied with a strong back nine to card a two-over 74 and share fourth alongside playing partner Luca Filippi from South Africa and Peru’s Anneke Strobach, whose twin Felipe (78) is also competing at West Lancashire.
“I can’t believe I four-putted the ninth but I’m proud of the way I came back in two-under,” said Muse, who holed a 20-foot putt on the 18th for her fourth birdie of the nine and was in much demand after her round.
“It’s great to have such a prestigious event played here on my home course and to have the chance to meet so many people from different countries.”
Like Townsend, Muse has thrived on the challenge and both are looking forward to watching their heroes later in the week.
“I’m really enjoying it. There’s a lot of pressure - every player feels it. I just think if you can relax then you cope better with the occasion,” said Muse, who plays off plus one at the host venue.
“It’s going to be nice to go and watch The Open as well.”
“I can’t wait to get over to Hoylake and watch my heroes like Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose,” added Muse.
There is still much golf to be played at West Lancashire before attentions turn to other side of the Mersey. A total of 75 countries are represented in the 124-player field. A cut after 36-holes will see the top 80 players and ties contest the final round of the 54-hole strokeplay event.
Among the players to have competed in the biennial Junior Open are Sergio Garcia, who won the first event in 1994, Francesco Molinari, Nicolas Colsaerts, Camilo Villegas, Paula Creamer, Patrick Reed, who won at Heswall in 2006, the last time The Open was staged at Royal Liverpool, and Jordan Spieth, who was runner-up at Hesketh in 2008.
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