SA’s Stone tied for the lead in Mauritius Open
BEL OMBRE, Mauritius – Rookie Rasmus Højgaard, French duo Benjamin Hebert and Romain Langasque, Rolex Series winner Brandon Stone and Scot Grant Forrest all fired opening rounds of 66 to share the lead at the top of a congested leaderboard after day one of the Mauritius Open on Thursday.
The island paradise was playing host to players from the European Tour, Asian Tour and Sunshine Tour and the leading quintet took advantage of good conditions to get to six-under.
There were then nine players in a share for second just one back, with 77 players under par and within five shots of the lead.
Dane Højgaard made his first European Tour cut at last week's Alfred Dunhill Championship and he carried that momentum forward with a bogey free effort to sit alongside Hebert in the early lead.
With increased winds in the afternoon, it looked like the duo may not be caught but Forrest, Langasque and Stone played beautifully to sit a shot ahead of South Africans Jaco Ahlers, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Keith Horne and Zander Lombard, French duo Matthieu Pavon and Antoine Rozner, Belgian Thomas Detry, American Sihwan Kim and Portuguese Ricardo Santos.
Stone had birdied the two par fives on the front nine to go with gains on the first and fifth but dropped a shot on the tenth. His dominance on the par fives continued with a gain on the 14th and he hit a stunning tee shot on the par three next and recovered from a poor tee shot to birdie the last and hit the front.
"Tee to green, I think I was decent," he said. "I hit the irons quite nicely, some really good iron shots earlier on in the round and towards the end there. The driving was okay, a few little wayward ones like the one on 18 that I managed to get away with but overall the game feels fantastic and I’m looking forward to a fresh start tomorrow morning.”
Playing partner Langasque made it four out of four on the par fives when he got up and down on the last to go with gains on the ninth, 12th and 16th and a dropped shot on the 13th.
"It was pretty solid all day," he said. "It was the kind of round I was looking for to start the tournament, so I'm pretty happy. I played well here two years ago and I think this is a course that fits my game really well. I'll just stay focused on doing my own thing.”
Højgaard may be playing his first season on the European Tour but the family name has been on golfing lips since 2018 when he and identical twin brother Nicolai combined with John Axelsen to win the Eisenhower Trophy for Denmark and played together in the Junior Ryder Cup.
Nicolai pushed Sergio Garcia all the way as he finished second at last season's KLM Open but on Thursday it was Rasmus' time to shine.
"It was great," he said. "I played well and gave myself a lot of chances. Rookie of the Year would be very nice but it will definitely take some good results to get that. I'll just try to play as well as I can and see where I end up.”
Hebert has six wins on the European Challenge Tour but is still seeking a maiden victory on the European Tour having been defeated in the final of the 2018 Belgian Knockout and lost out in three play-offs in 2019.
"It's always nice to start a tournament in this way," he said. "I played well, it was nice. I enjoy the course, it is in very good condition. I think I played good, quite solid. It was a good round of golf, it was pretty fun out there.”
Langasque and Forrest are also seeking their maiden European Tour victories, while South African Stone is a three time winner, including his triumph at the 2018 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
"The par fives are key, they are all reachable," said Forrest. "You get the tee shots away there and there are really good chances so you need to make the most of them. The game is getting there. We've done a lot of work over the past few months and it's been a bit of a struggle on the golf course but we're starting to see signs now.”
Højgaard birdied the fifth and eagled the par five seventh before adding gains on the 14th and 16th and producing an excellent pitch to pick up a shot on the last.
Hebert had dropped a shot on the 13th but birdied the 14th, 15th, second, fourth, fifth and seventh before a ten footer on the ninth put him in a share of the lead.
Horne, Rozner and J J Senekal had all also been at six under at one point but dropped back with Forrest joining the lead with a birdie on the second to add to a roller coaster first nine holes.
After starting with three birdies - including a monster putt on the tenth - he bogeyed the next but eagled the par five 14th with a chip-in and also made the most of the 18th.
He dropped a shot on the fifth but picked it back up as he got up and down on the par five seventh and there was soon a five way tie for the lead.
There were seven players at four under including European Tour winners Darren Fichardt, Justin Harding and Søren Kjeldsen.
African News Agency (ANA)