Eduardo Romero put his hand in his own pocket to help his protégé, young fellow Argentinian, Angel Cabrera, play on the European Tour three years ago. In the TNT Dutch Open at Hilversum, Cabrera showed that Romero’s faith in him was not misplaced as he joined his generous benefactor in a share of the first round lead with four others on 67.
Romero could not disguise his pleasure as the man he describes as his “little brother” joined him in the clubhouse on four under par along with another Spanish speaker, Ignacio Garrido, Italy’s Emanuele Canonica, Katsuyoshi Tomori of Japan and local Dutch favourite, Rolf Muntz.
The five-way tie proved yet again how far Cabrera has come since the days in 1996 when Romero, from the same Argentinian town of Cordoba, helped his younger neighbour financially to play the Tour.
Already this season he has won £327,585 on the European Tour, finished second in the Benson and Hedges International Open and the Murphy’s Irish Open and tied fourth in the Open Championship at Carnoustie last week.
Had his birde putt at the 72nd hole dropped, Cabrera would have made it a four-way play-off. And while new Open champion Paul Lawrie and the defeated Jean van de Velde took a week off to recover, Cabrera showed no sign of slacking the pace.
Romero admitted: “I have known Angel since he was seven or eight years old. He lived only two blocks from my home in Cordoba. I knew very early that he could be a good player while he was a young caddie at my course.
“I encouraged him to play, so it’s good to see him do so well now. I knew he was special. When he came to play on the European Tour I helped him financially as you need a lot of money to play over here.”
Romero’s judgement in his young protege has been vindicated several times over and he believes Cabrera more than capable of winning a big tournament on the Tour, or contending again for a major.
Cabrera, 29, is equally effusive about his mentor. After shooting 67 just moments after Romero returned his scorecard at Hilversum, he said: “Eduardo had a big influence on my career. He helped me start the game when I was 15 years old and I am thankful to him.”
The steady rain in Holland made conditions more difficult than usual, but Garrido reached the sanctuary of the clubhouse before the skies opened. The Spanish Ryder Cup player missed the Open due to a wrist injury and only returned to action on Wednesday.
However he had no ill effects and compiled his best opening round for several weeks. Canonica, now working with sports psychologist, Jos Vanstiphout, joined the group at the top along with Muntz.
The Dutchman, happy to perform so well in front of his own public, attributed his rediscovered form to his South African girlfriend, Vanessa.
Muntz missed the Open pre-qualifying mark at Monifieth last week but stayed on to work on his game. He explained: “I used my video camera and Vanessa took a look and she felt I was crouching too much and that my clubs were not long enough.
“The penny dropped. I knew I felt uncomfortable but I didn’t know why. I got an inch added to the length of the shafts and it feels much better. It’s not perfect but I am more comfortable now.”
Tomori joined the group on 67 after completing the last five holes in two under par, aided by birdies from 20 feet and 25 feet at the 14th and 18th.