Tom Gillis from Michigan missed his wedding anniversary two days ago – but barely missed anything on the newly re-designed greens at Crans-sur-Sierre as he took a two shot lead after the first round of the Canon European Masters.
The 31 year old American fired a five under par 66, thanks to using his putter only 21 times, to finish the opening day ahead of three players on 68 – Angel Cabrera of Argentina, England’s Stephen Field and Francisco Cea of Spain.
It has been a difficult year for Gillis, who spent his third anniversary in Switzerland while his wife, Wendy, was thousands of miles away in the USA working as General Manager of a Golf and Country Club near Detroit.
Gillis had missed four cuts in a row and admitted: “It’s been a bad year, kind of both working. That has put a strain on both of us all year.
“I don’t think I’ve been totally happy all year. Every day that I wake up I’m not excited to be out there. You’ve got to be happy in your work. I only get home every five weeks or so and I hate to say it, but I’m kind of excited that the year is coming to an end.”
Gillis managed to keep his card on the final day of the last counting event, the Belgacom Open, last October. He finished 116th and made sure of his exemption in 1999.
Now, however, he lies 168th on the Volvo Order of Merit and, by his own admission, needs a good run to retain his playing rights for 2000.
Cabrera, ninth on the Volvo Order of Merit, lies just two behind after a round including a double bogey 7 on the 14th and looks a dangerous challenger, as does Lee Westwood, who shook off jet lag and a general disaffection with the new greens to shoot a two under par 69.
Westwood, thrilled to be back in Europe after three weeks in America, did not criticise designer Seve Ballesteros, who had enough troubles of his own in a round of 78.
“I don’t know if Seve’s got it right” he said. “In my opinion it is not a better course than it was four years ago, but that’s only my opinion. It’s hard to say if it’s unfair. I personally preferred this week when you turned up and had to shoot 24 under to win.”
Of the five players on two under par, Mathias Gronberg of Sweden, knows what it takes to win at Crans-sur-Sierre having triumphed in 1995, while Ryder Cup players Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez both shot 70s.