Hot Harper throws down the gauntlet


Two-time runner-up Kevin Harper put himself in the box seat on the opening day of the Powerade PGA Assistants' Championship at East Sussex National.

The Sidmouth Golf Club assistant, who has just completed his PGA foundation degree, has previously expressed his desire to win the title on what is his last appearance in the championship.

And he came good on day one of the £32,500 tournament, which is in association with FootJoy, as he carded a five-under-par 67 to give him a one shot lead over debutant Matt Spencer (Mill Hill) and a two-shot advantage over defending champion Matthew Cort (Rothley Park).

Just seven players shot under par on a course that recovered well having endured a deluge of rain in recent days, including on the eve of the tournament.

Harper, a former PGA Europro Tour Order of Merit winner, chalked up six birdies with a bogey at the ninth the only blot on his card.

"I'm really, really pleased with the result," he said.

"The leaderboards are all round the course and I knew what I had to do. Even though it's a great score I'm still disappointed it's one of those days I had thoughts of shooting in double figures under par. It's one of the best days I can remember playing tee to green. I had an opportunity at nearly every single green but I just didn't hole enough putts.

"I'm pleased to be leading and it doesn't matter whether you win by one or 10, I just kept it so I can be in contention as this is my last chance in this event on a course I love playing"

Given his record in the tournament, Harper is joint favourite for the title alongside Cort, but he is content with the expectations and pressure on his shoulders to end on a winning note.

"A lot has been written about my two runners-up places and wanting to win this year so I've had loads of people say your favourite and load of tweets saying the same, so I knew I had to play well and the weather has been kinder," he said.

"There's no pressure as I don't become affected by it. It's only pressure when you can't handle it and it's what you make of it. I just do what I normally do and stick to my routines and just enjoy it."

Cort, who took the title in style last year when he closed with an eight-under-par 64, expressed his satisfaction with his opening salvo that comprised four birdies and just one dropped shot.

The 37-year-old former European Tour and Challenge Tour player said: "I had a good start then bogeyed one of the easier holes, the sixth, and was hitting good shots but not holing the putts so I was getting a bit frustrated.

"I finished well coming back in two-under with birdies at 15 and 16 and a birdie putt lipped out at the last. Sixty-nine is a great start and I have not shot myself out of the tournament but maybe I could have shot better. On the whole I am happy with that. I am up there and that's all I could do."

However Cort, who has just completed the second year of the PGA foundation degree, was adamant that he needs to improve his putting with the rest of his game in good shape.

"I'm keeping the ball in play, driving it well and irons are good I could just do with maybe taking more chances with my putting," he said.

Sandwiched in between the two title contenders is Powerade rookie Spencer, who took the deliberate decision to not enter the past two years to focus on his studies.

The 22-year-old playing with new clubs made his mark with one eagle, five birdies and three dropped shots.

"I am very happy as everything went according to plan," he said.

"This was the first time I actually played with my new clubs and they felt really good out there having put a lot of practice in with them.

"I switched to PING having gone up to Gainsborough and got them fitted from driver right through to wedges. It's only my putter that has stayed the same.

"The driver felt great and kept me in play all the way round, while I felt much more comfortable with the putter."

The winner of the championship, which concludes on Friday, secures a place in the end-of-season Titleist PGA Play-Offs.

Following tomorrow's second round, the top 40 and ties will make the cut for the final round.

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