Nilsson outshines stars in France
Christian Nilsson was the surprise leader after day one of the Alstom French Open as the big guns struggled.
Last Updated: 05/07/12 6:30pm
Christian Nilsson was the surprise leader after day one of the Alstom French Open as the big guns experienced difficulties at Le Golf National - venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Swede Nilsson reeled off seven birdies in an opening 65 to post six-under and take the lead by one from England's Gary Boyd, Italian Matteo Manassero and Thai Thongchai Jaidee.
"I'm very happy," said Nilsson, whose best finish to date this season is 38th. "It's been a struggle this year for me so far, so I really needed this score today, and especially on this tough course. It's good for my confidence.
"I think the course plays quite tough even though it's calm conditions and beautiful weather. I'm really pleased with six-under par."
Lee Westwood is the best placed of the star names on one-under - five shots back - but he needed a strong recovery after slumping to four over after his opening six holes.
The world number three also had to make a major escape at his closing hole, the par five ninth.
His drive finished on the edge of the lake and, despite keeping his shoes and socks on, Westwood had water up to his calves as he hacked the ball out and splattered his rolled-up trousers.
The reason for not going barefoot was that he remembered Thomas Levet jumping in the lake and breaking his leg after winning last year.
"I didn't know what was in there," said Westwood. "I've got plenty of shoes with me."
Graeme McDowell, who had kicked off his challenge with a double bogey, had to settle for a 72 while former French Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany could only manage a two-over 73.
Ran into trouble
Justin Rose seemed set to challenge the leaders after three birdies and three pars in his opening six holes but he too ran into trouble on the back nine, going bogey, par, double bogey, bogey from the 11th and posting level par.
Ian Poulter, meanwhile, was in the pack at one over. He tweeted later: "Disappointing score today played very solid today & didn't take anything from the round. Head down keep trudging on they will drop soon."
Open champion Darren Clarke finally found a bit of form with a one-under 70 but last week's Irish Open winner, Jamie Donaldson, appeared to suffer something of a reaction.
After his five-over 76, the Welshman said: "I was a little bit tired and didn't really know what was going on. It was not as bad as it could have been."
At least his win appeared to have rubbed off on his good friend Boyd.
Boyd (66) said: "I went to see my coach in America and have worked hard. There have been a lot of positive signs the last three weeks and I felt my game was in good shape coming here."