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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Welcomes Europe's Golfers

The Moscow Country Club was well decked with the signs of elite competition and the finery of generous corporate sponsorship Thursday as the first round of the BMW Russian Open 2001 teed off under the cloudy skies of Nakhabino, Moscow region.

The biggest news of the day was an astonishing performance by Andr? Bossert, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, who shot a nine under par 63 — a new course record.

The 156 competitors from across the world, including six from Russia, were set to play a second qualifying round Friday to determine which players will move on to the third and fourth rounds Saturday and Sunday to vie for a share of the $150,000 prize fund.

The Russian Open has been part of the PGA European Challenge Tour since 1996 and is one of the most popular tournaments on the Tour — which annually graduates its top 15 players to the PGA European Tour — mainly due to its highly regarded facilities.

One hundred and twenty-three players in the Open this year are officially ranked by the Challenge Tour, among them are 23 of the top 30 players, including Russia Open veteran and No. 1-ranked Mark Foster of Worksop, England.

"Probably 12 guys playing here will play next year on the main tour," said tournament director Jose Maria Zamora, who added that three top-ranked players decided to take the week off.

Foster, who finished Thursday with a 69, said he was feeling "not great," but "should be better tomorrow."

His enthusiasm for the course itself, however, was glowing. "This is an excellent course," he said. "[It is] one of the best we play."

Zamora, who first saw the Moscow course on a visit two months ago, had a similar opinion: "Everything is top class. Players are very happy to come here."

Though Foster's ranking virtually assures his promotion to the main tournament next year, he allowed no room for frivolity: "You've got to reset your goals and try to keep your concentration. There's no point in coming if you're not trying."

But for many, the attraction of the Russia Open goes beyond the 18 holes in this small Moscow-region town.

Michael Archer, from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, and ranked 22nd with the Tour, played on the European PGA Tour in '92, '95 and '96, and has come to the Moscow tournament this year for the first time. "It's just one of those things that, if you get the chance to come to Russia, you take it," Archer said. "It's an opportunity of a lifetime."

The BMW Russia Open continues Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Le Meridien Moscow Country Club.