Celtic Classic: Thomas Pieters leads despite having no competitive golf in five months
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 13/08/20 9:00pm
Thomas Pieters was clearly unaffected by his lack of competitive golf as he claimed the first-round lead at the Celtic Classic in Newport.
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Pieters recovered from an early mistake to card eight birdies in a superb seven-under 64 which earned him a one-shot lead after his first European Tour round since the Qatar Masters back in March.
The Belgian delayed his return to action following the birth of his first daughter during the coronavirus shutdown, but he showed no signs of rust other than running up a double-bogey six on the long second at Celtic Manor.
Pieters got under the card with back-to-back birdies at six and seven, and he began the back-nine with further gains at 10 and 11 before adding two more at the 14th and 15th and chipping in for a two at the short 17th.
The 28-year-old then finished in style when he pitched to within three feet to set up his eighth birdie of the day at the last, capping an inward 29 and ensuring the outright lead ahead of England's Toby Tree and Australian Jake McLeod.
"It was pretty good. I putted well and kept my ball in play, so I didn't really get myself in trouble," said Pieters, winner of four European Tour titles.
"I miss my little baby girl, but I am thankful I can play golf right now. It is the first event in five months, so it feels nice to get out there and actually put a score down."
Challenge Tour graduate Tree also bogeyed the second having started with a birdie, and he picked up three shots in four holes around the turn before further gains at 15 and 17 added up to a 65 which was matched late in the day when McLeod eagled the last.
Edoardo Molinari enjoyed a successful return to the stage of his lone Ryder Cup appearance 10 years ago, the Italian making his seventh birdie of the round at the last to complete a 66 and share fourth with a large group on five under including recent Austrian Open champion Marc Warren.
Andrew "Beef" Johnston is among the logjam on four-under having birdied a remarkable seven of the last 10 holes, although he blotted his card with an ugly triple-bogey six at the short 13th.
The early headlines were dominated by Alex Levy, who became the first European Tour player to test positive for Covid-19 after he was earlier withdrawn from the tournament.
The Frenchman initially tested negative after informing tournament officials that a friend he had met at home in France over the weekend had tested positive for the virus, but was re-tested and returned a positive result.
The 30-year-old must now self-isolate for 14 days, and compatriot Romain Wattel - who tested negative - was also withdrawn from the event after being identified as one of Levy's contacts at Celtic Manor.