El Jadida: Apparently drawing inspiration from the fighting spirit of his younger brother Ian, Danny Poulter battled through tough conditions to grab a share of the lead in the opening round of the Mena Tour Qualifying School at the Royal El Jadida Golf Course in Morocco on Tuesday.
The Englishman mixed four birdies with five bogies in his opening 73 to move into a six-way tie at the top of the leader board with Petr Dedek of the Czech Republic, England’s Jack Doherty, Reed Lindsey of the US, Billy Hemstock of England and Spain’s Leonardo Axel Lilja Moyano.
On a day when most players struggled to get their rhythm going, Poulter made the turn at two-under after opening with a birdie, but four bogeys on the back nine set him back. A birdie on the last, however, restored confidence.
With three birdies and one bogey in his first 11 holes, Hemstock looked in complete control of proceedings, but took an eight on the par-5, 18th to deny him an outright lead.
England’s Adam Ward and Charles Tortuyaux of France shared second a further shot adrift at 74, one ahead of a seven-man group that included Walking Cup winning star Grant Forrest of Scotland.
Tortuyaux produced the highlight of the day as he aced the par-3, 13th with a 54-degree wedge from 123 metres for his fourth hole-in-one of his career and the first in a professional competition.
“It was tough out there because of the shifting winds. Also, the greens are pretty small and narrow and difficult to read. I missed a couple of short putts here and there, but I’m very pleased with a 74 in such conditions,” said Tortuyaux, who is making his Mena Tour debut.
Former England cricketer Craig Kieswetter settled for a 77 after opening with three bogeys in a row to join eight others in a tie for 17th while the UAE’s Ahmad Al Musharrakh carded a 79 to finish the day tied for 32nd.
Elsewhere, Spain’s Gabriel Canizares, who won the Mena Tour’s Dirab Championship in a play-off against England’s Craig Hinton in 2015, and Canada’s Lindsay Renolds, who finished runner-up to England’s Peter Richardson at the 2012 Shaikh Maktoum Dubai Open, signed for matching 78s for a share of 26th.
The field will be narrowed down to 70 players on Wednesday for the final stage 18-hole competition to be played on Thursday. A minimum of 50 players from the final qualifying round will be eligible for Mena Tour category seven membership for 2017.
The Mena Tour was founded in 2011 to develop golf in the region. Leading players earn invites to play in select European Tour events, get full privileges on the Sunshine Tour and exemptions into the final stage of Asian Tour Q-School.