English pair Matthew Baldwin and Ryan Evans are among seven players tied for the lead after the opening round of the inaugural Belgian Knockout in Antwerp.
Baldwin and Evans fired four-under 67s on a day of tough scoring at the Rinkven International Golf Club, with only 38 of the 144-man field managing to break the par of 71 in bright, but breezy conditions.
Asian Tour No 1 Gavin Green was first into the clubhouse at four under after he birdied the last two holes to complete a rare bogey-free card, and he was soon joined by Nico Geyger while Baldwin got to five under with his fifth birdie of the day at the fourth – his 13th.
But Baldwin made his only mistake of the day at his final round to slip into the logjam tied for the lead, which was increased by Evans, Thomas Detry, Jorge Campillo and Jeff Winther.
Detry was the leading home challenger in the first event to be held in Belgium for 18 years, and he staged a superb finish as he birdied the final three holes, while former Ryder Cup star Nicolas Colsaerts was one stroke off the pace.
“What can I say, my first round here in Belgium in front of home crowds, shooting four under and finishing with three birdies like that, it doesn’t get any better,” said Detry.
“The course was perfect, the greens were firm and fast, which was good. It got a little windy out there, as well, so we have to be careful on a few holes. I played some very good golf and I’m excited for the rest of the week.
“Pieters was playing behind me, so a lot of people were following him, but it’s just awesome to see some familiar faces, friends from home, everybody out here supporting. It’s just great for golf in Belgium and great for me.”
Tournament host Pieters has his work cut out to get himself into the top 64 by the close of play in the second round after he opened with a frustrating two-over 73.
The innovative format for the weekend features the remaining 64 players split into two groups, with three rounds of knockout matches to be played on Saturday over nine holes in a stroke play format.
The groups will be split evenly over the front and back nines, and the final three rounds will continue to a conclusion on Sunday, again over nine-hole knockout stroke play matches.
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“I didn’t play that bad, I just didn’t make anything on the greens,” said Pieters. “But seeing all my friends out there made it fun and enjoyable.
“I think the first nine is a bit tougher, just because fairways are a bit more fiddly and narrow, and on the back nine, the greens were a bit bumpy. But you’re always going to get that – 144 players are going to walk on them before you but if I make a couple putts in the morning, I’ll be fine.”