Ben Stow is fully back up to speed at Foshan Open after six-week injury lay-off in July

Ben Stow playing in the first round of the 2019 Foshan Open
Wiltshire’s Ben Stow believes a six-week break In July after an injury, has left him feeling fresher for the China leg of the European Challenge Tour. Picture by GETTY IMAGES

WILTSHIRE’S Ben Stow celebrated his birthday in style by setting a new course record of 64 at Foshan Golf Club to lead the Foshan Open by one stroke after the opening day.

The 28-year-old sits one shot ahead of Germany’s Alexander Knappe, who would have joined Stow as holder of the course record of eight-under par, if not for a closing bogey to leave him on seven-under.

Another six players share third place on six-under, including 2017 Champion Oliver Farr.

Stow, playing in the first group of the day off the 10th tee, bounced back from a double bogey on the 17th hole – his eighth – with a birdie to make the turn in two-under.

The 2013 Brabazon Trophy winner then notched five consecutive gains from the second to the sixth, which catapulted him to the top of the leaderboard.

And a closing birdie saw him beat the existing course record of 65, set by Wales’ Rhys Davies and Aussie Scott Arnold.

Stow, alongside playing partners Wil Besseling and Simon Hawkes, raced around Foshan Golf Club, with their front nine taking just one hour and 50 minutes and Stow spoke of how much he enjoyed the pace of play.

“It was great to play so quickly,” Stow said. “We played the front nine in one hour and 50 minutes, which in tournament golf is unheard-of,” revealed Stow, who is currently 26th on the Road to Mallorca.

“It was great. We were out first and with Wil and Simon – none of us are slow – we didn’t really rush. We just played when we were ready. It was really enjoyable actually.

“I played great and putted well so I’m really chuffed. I’ve been working really hard recently so it’s nice to get some results,” said Stow, who was a member at Rushmore GC, on the Hampshire-Wiltshire border, as a junior.

The 2011 Faldo Series UK winner would love a top 15 finish to the season to earn promotion to the European Tour and join former Wiltshire team-mate Jordan Smith.

Stow added: “I played really solid and I just hit one bad tee shot down 17. Where I left my approach shot left me with a very, very fast putt and I just missed it coming back.

“I knew I was playing well and on 18 the wind was down when we played it. So I managed to get it quite a long way up 18 and then I easily made the green in two – then it was a good two-putt.”

The 2018 Prague Golf Challenge winner missed a period of time earlier this year through injury, having also suffered a serious knee injury before his breakthrough win a year ago.

But despite the frustration of being side-lined at the time, Stow admits he is now reaping the benefits of the enforced mid-season break.

“Traditionally I haven’t played very well in China, but I had six weeks off this year with an injury in July, and right now, I think it’s a bit of a saving grace because I feel fresh and quite chilled out,” said Stow, who spent four years playing for Kentucky University’s Wildcats.

“In previous years I’ve always played quite a lot and then got here and felt quite tired. So maybe the moral of the story is take a month off in July.”

Joining Farr in a tie for third place on six-under is Australia’s Cory Crawford, Royal Liverpool’s Italian Challenge Open Eneos Motor Oil Champion Matthew Jordan, Finland’s Roope Kakko, Kent’s Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge winner Steven Tiley and Italy’s Aron Zemmer.

Rounding off the top 10 in a tie for ninth place on five-under is Portugal’s Ricardo Santos and China’s Liu Yanwei, who is currently the leading Chinese player.

•The second round of the Foshan Open begins at 6.55am local time on Friday, with leader Stow due off at 11.10am.

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