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Kofstad impresses Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley at Wales Open

Updated: Thursday, 29 Aug 2013 21:22 | Comments

Espen Kofstad hits his opening tee shot under the watchful eye of Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley
Espen Kofstad hits his opening tee shot under the watchful eye of Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley

As first impressions go, Norway's Espen Kofstad could hardly have done any better as the Ryder Cup qualifying race got under way in the ISPS Handa Wales Open.

Playing alongside Europe captain Paul McGinley in the first match out at 7:25am, Kofstad birdied the first two holes and then stormed home in 29 to card a seven-under-par 64 at Celtic Manor.

The 26-year-old even got a high-five from McGinley after holing his bunker shot on the 18th for an eagle to complete his round in style and lead by two shots from England's Chris Wood and Australian Richard Green.

"What a finish," said McGinley, who struck the opening tee shot this morning and birdied the last for a one-under-par 70. "To finish birdie, birdie, birdie eagle is fantastic.

"He hit it a million miles, hit a lot of fairways, played very well and he deserved that score."

And Ryder Cup captain McGinley is best of the Irish, alongside Damien McGrane who also shot a one-under 70.

Gareth Maybin posted level par, while Peter Lawrie, David Higgins, Simon Thornton and Darren Clarke all shot over-par opening rounds.

Kofstad won the Challenge Tour last season but is 149th on the Race to Dubai in his rookie season on the European Tour after missing eight cuts in succession following his only top-10 finish of the year at the Spanish Open in April.

A neck injury also forced him to withdraw from the French Open but working with a sports psychologist has seemingly had the desired effect.

"I have been very, very calm the last two weeks," Kofstad said. "I started to settle down a bit. I was a bit stressed and tentative and wasn't able to practice as much as I wanted to with my neck injury.

"I wasn't nervous and it felt really easy. I kept hitting the shots and they came off in the end. I got a little lucky I suppose holing a long putt on the 17th and the bunker shot on the last. I was only trying to get it 10-15 feet past the hole because it was a tough shot.

"It was really cool to play with the Ryder Cup captain. It was just inspiring to be here I think, taking photographs with the trophy on the first tee. It would be great to play in the Ryder Cup, although I can't really expect a spot. But I put in a decent application today."

As for his prospects of retaining his card for next season, the University of Denver graduate added: "I'm one good week away and you never know what's going to happen.

"I could play brilliantly the rest of the season. If I play like I want to it won't be a problem."

Bristol's Wood looked on course to join Kofstad in the lead but three-putted the par-five ninth for his only bogey of the day and had to settle for a five-under 66.

"Even though I'm English I do think of this as a home event and it's one I'd love to win," said Wood, who eagled the short par-four 15th after his drive finished just four feet from the hole.

"It's nice to be able to stay at home this week, it's only 30 minutes across the bridge for me and dinner is on the table when you walk in the door, and I treated my caddie to a Bristol City game on Tuesday - well, I would call it a treat.

"We beat Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup so I think he got lucky. It's probably the best I have seen them play for a couple of years so I think Brendan is now a bit of a closet fan."

Wood, who won his maiden European Tour title in Qatar in January, is currently 61st in the world rankings and is targeting a place inside the top 50 to boost his chances of Ryder Cup qualification.

"It's a long way off but as good a start as you can get, the better," added the 25-year-old, who played alongside his idol Tiger Woods on the way to finishing seventh in the Bridgestone Invitational earlier this month.

"I feel my game is more ready to get myself into contention for a place than it was a couple of years ago, but if you're not in the world's top 50 you have to be winning events to have a chance."

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