AMERICAN John Catlin carded a flawless six-under par 65 to charge into an early lead at European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage, at Spain’s Lumine Golf Club.
Catlin came into the event less than a week after securing his fourth Asian Tour victory, in Thailand, and continued in the same form.
He recorded six birdies and 12 pars on the Lakes Course as he looks to secure an immediate return to the European Tour, having earned starts in 2019 via the Asian Order of Merit.
Catlin said: “It’s only one of six rounds and it’s definitely a nice way to start but there’s still a long way to go.
“I remember liking this track at last year’s event and the Hills was the course I definitely struggled on, so to come out and take full advantage of that was a good way to start.
“Winning my fourth title on the Asian Tour and to win in Thailand where I’ve been living for the past three years was a great feeling.
“I know if I can take care of what I can take care of then I’ve got every chance of contending and I’ve given myself the best chance possible.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic to compete in Europe. It’s made me a better golfer for sure.
“You can see the difference coming from the Asian Tour to the European Tour, which is the next step up and the margin of error is just that much smaller.”
The 29-year-old Californian admitted he relished the opportunity to compete in Europe for the first time this season.
His best finish was a tie for 12th at the Made in Denmark but knows there is still a long way to go before he seals his 2020 playing rights in the six-round contest in Tarragona.
Catlin will begin the second round with a one-shot advantage over a group of six players on five-under.
It includes 2018 Final Stage joint-champion Alejandro Cañizares, Dane Benjamin Poke, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, Finland’s Sami Valimaki, Sussex’s Toby Tree and Italian Lorenzo Scalise.
Poke, who finished 29th on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca last week, said: “It’s always nice to get off to a good start.
“It’s my first time at Final Stage and I’ve heard from some of the other guys, especially some of the Danes, how long a week it is.
“As always, tournaments are not won on day one but I’m certainly very happy to get off to a good start,” said the 28-year-old. “Hopefully I can continue in the same mindset.
“Coming from the Nordic Golf League last year and playing in Category 13 on the Challenge Tour, I felt like I had a good season by making it to the Grand Final.
“And from hereon in, everything I do this week is just a bonus. It’s quite a nice place to be, I think, and obviously you’re still trying to do as well as you can.
“The nerves are still going to be there because it means something to you,” added Poke.
“My goal is to take every day at a time and every shot at a time – it’s a cliché but that’s the thing.”
Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, who played the Challenge Tour after turning pro in 2004, but lost his European Tour card in 2013, said: “I haven’t been playing anymore, I’ve just been teaching golf.
“I went to First Stage just for fun and I made it to Second Stage – and now I’m here, so I’m back playing.
“I love playing golf. I played poorly at the end of my career so it was tough for me to play golf, and I didn’t even want to think about playing golf even with my friends.
“I wasn’t enjoying it very much but I haven’t played for a year or so, and I’m enjoying it much more, so that’s why I’m here, to have fun.”
Meanwhile France’s Robin Sciot-Siegrist, who narrowly missed out on his European Tour card after finishing 16th at the Challenge Tour Grand Final last week, is a shot back on four-under.
Sciot-Siegrist, who missed out on a European Tour card by just one spot on the Road to Mallorca rankings, said: “I’m really happy with what I did at the Challenge Tour Grand Final.
“I believe that for me, missing the top 15 was not a matter of how I played last week, it was other moments during the year. Last week was my best result of the year.
“Obviously I finished 16th, it was hard to swallow, two years ago I finished 17th – so it’s getting there. I’m improving every year.
“I’m playing this course that I know pretty well, so I just have to continue the way I have been, because it works.”
Sciot-Siegrist was joined on that mark by Germany’s Hurly Long and Italian Aron Zemmer, who won the European Tour Qualifying School Second Stage event at Club de Golf Bonmont, last weekend.
Nine years ago Frenchman Gregory Havret finished runner-up to Graeme McDowell at the US Open at Pebble Beach.
But after finishing 28th on the Road to Mallorca, 42-year-old Havret said after his first round: “It’s been a busy year since the Challenge Tour season began in Turkey.
And now this is the big one, the longest one, the big test. There are still so many holes to play.
“It’s a long road, but you have to stay focused. No matter what happens on the course you want to stay really focused because it’s a long story this Q-School thing.”
Catlin returns to action on the Hills Course at 8.50am UK time, with Cañizares also continuing his bid to regain his European Tour card on the Hills Course at 9.20am.
•To follow live scoring in the second round of the European Tour Qualifying School click here.