Paul Waring may be an unfamiliar name at the top of the $7 million HNA Open de France leaderboard, yet there was a time not long ago when many experts within the British amateur golf fraternity predicted the Englishman would contend for big European titles.
The 32-year holds a two-shot first round lead over Thomas Pieters, Sweden’s Alexander Bjork and fellow Englishman Nathan Kimsey after a flawless 7-under-par 64.
Tommy Fleetwood and 2010 U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein are tied for fifth along with Germany’s Florian Fritsch.
Waring started on the 10th tee and didn’t take long to get into contention. He followed a birdie at the 11th with three straight birdies from the 13th to play his front nine in four under. He came back in 3-under-par 33 for his 64.
“I’m obviously (delighted),” Waring said. “I only hit five fairways which is obscene around here, but I had 10 putts on the back nine. Obviously I rolled the putter great and gave myself some real chances out there and took them.
“If we drive it better, we can go really silly but really happy with how it’s gone. If we can just score similar to that, I’ll be more than happy.”
Pieters had just one blemish on his card. A bogey at the par-5 9th hole put a slight downer on six birdies, including three straight from the 12th.
Waring’s name is never mentioned among the great young Englishmen currently playing the European Tour. He was a contemporary of Danny Willett in British amateur golf, and won the 2005 English Amateur Championship two years before Willett. He had a chance to play alongside Willett in the 2007 Walker Cup, but just missed out.
Back injuries have hampered Waring’s career. He missed large parts of 2011 and 2012. He appeared to be back on track in 2015 when he placed third in the Malaysian Open. However, his back problems returned and he missed the rest of the season.
Waring played on a medical exemption in 2016, but missed much of that season too. In fact, he made just 12 starts in 2015 and 2016. France is his 12th start this season, which suggests his back issues are over.
He’s also playing on a medical exemption this year, and has so far managed second in the Joburg Open and third in the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco. He’s currently 43rd on the European money list and keen to make up for lost time.
“You’re always trying to push yourself forward,” Waring said. “You’re always trying to move up any sort of rankings, be that Race to Dubai, be that World Rankings. We’ve got a good, strong field again this year, so there’s plenty of World Ranking points available. So I’ve just got to keep pushing myself forward.”
Pieters is the better bet to go on and win the Rolex Series event, but sentimentalists will be hoping Waring can go the distance.