The trio’s six under par rounds of 66 were matched by two-time Challenge Tour winner Marcel Schneider of Germany, Italian Enrico Di Nitto, Swede Simon Forsström and two further home favourites in Jérôme Lando-Casanova and Alexandre Fuchs on a weather-interrupted day at Golf International de Pont Royal.
British Challenge presented by Modest! Golf Management winner Leon is full of confidence after his maiden Challenge Tour win at The Belfry earlier this month, admitting he felt as if he could birdie almost every hole on day one in Provence.
“I played very well today. It was probably the best ball-striking I’ve had since I came over this season. Everything felt good, I putted it beautifully and I was six under par but I had a lot of looks at birdie. Overall, it was a very pleasant round of golf.
“I made a very good par save on seven, but other than that I hit everything so clean. I had great control over the ball and I felt as if I could have shot lower than six under today. That’s always a great feeling because it doesn’t happen often in tournament rounds.
“I was on point today, knew my numbers and I felt as if I had a chance at birdie on almost every hole.”
Amateur Vaillant impressed on his maiden Challenge Tour appearance and was delighted to please the local crowd at Golf International de Pont Royal.
“It’s my first Challenge Tour event and my first season playing professional tournaments,” he said. “I am still an amateur and I am still learning every day. I want to play well with the help of my caddie, hit good shots and make good decisions.
“I was a little bit nervous on the first tee, but I was excited to start because this is where I want to be, playing against professional golfers. I tried to stay calm and just play like any other normal day.
“I was putting well out there today, I had a good speed on every putt and the grass was very similar to where I grew up, so I found chipping easy today. My iron game was solid, I just tried to hit the greens and play the percentage play.”
South African Jacques Blaauw, Norway’s Kristian Krogh Johannessen, Austrian Niklas Regner, Swede Jens Dantop and Frenchman Franck Daux are one shot off the lead on five under par, while ten players share 14th place on four under par.