Date: March 28, 2019
Author: Mark Hayes

Ruffels on top in Panama

Australian Ryan Ruffels lost his Latinoamerica Tour card last year – but you wouldn't know it today as he swept back into top form.

The 20-year-old shares the first-round lead with American Jared Wolfe at the windswept Buenaventura Classic in Panama, the pair having shot impressive six-under-par 66s as only four players broke 70.

Ruffels won back his playing rights in December's development series final, the tour's equivalent to Q-School, with four sub-par rounds to finish third.

And while conditions were far from easy today, Ruffels showed the hard work he has put in to overcome a disappointing 2018 was beginning to bear fruit.

And capping a promising day for the small Aussie contingent, New South Welshman Harrison Endycott battled hard for an even-par 72 to share 15th.

So strong was the wind late in the day that Ruffels, who grew up in Victoria, played a running four-iron from 110m for his third to the par-five 16th.

"There are all kinds of things you can to do be creative around here. I grew up in Australia, where it’s windy. I was watching some of the boys trying to hit fuller shots today, they come up short and make a bogey," Ruffels said.

"That’s my advantage, and I’m hitting the ball well.

"It probably took me nine holes in some really windy conditions to sort of get used to playing tournament golf again, because it has been a while.

"I chipped in on the par-five (12th) from maybe 45 yards for eagle and that’s what got me going and then I holed a nice long putt on the next and sort of just got a little bit of momentum.

"It was pretty easy when we started. The wind wasn’t up, and probably after the fourth or fifth holes, the wind started to get up and it was maybe the most outrageous nine holes I’ve ever played.

"I’ve never played in wind even close to that."

Ruffels opened his round with a bogey, but did little wrong after that.

Birdies on the fourth and seventh holes allowed him to turn at one under – and that's where the fun began as he went birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie from the tenth with four consecutive down-breeze holes.

But it was his final five pars of the round that he said were the key to his success.

"Parring the last four holes was far more impressive than birdieing and eagling those ones early," he said.

"Those last four holes are some of the most brutal I’ve played, back into the wind."

Ruffels made just five of 11 cuts in an injury-hampered 2018 Latinoamerica Tour season, finishing 71st on the Order of Merit.