Alberto Binaghi made the most of his late invitation by posting an opening 66, six under par, to take the first round lead in the Novotel Perrier Open de France at Le Golf National.
The 35-year-old Italian, who lost his Tour card last season, was about to leave for Ascona for the Credit Suisse Private Banking Open on the Challenge Tour when he received the call on Tuesday afternoon informing him he should change his plans to play in France.
Instead of heading to Switzerland he came to Versailles and made an instant impression as he rolled in seven birdies with just the one dropped shot.
“I played a good round, missed a couple of greens by a yard and chipped pretty good,” he said. “Just had two three putts, one for the bogey on six. But I was quite happy.”
Binaghi, who was struck by lightning at Guadalmina during the European Tour Qualifying School Finals in 1998, has only led once before some seven years ago but will now be aiming to become the tenth first time winner on the European Tour this year. “When you see people win for the first time it helps,” he said. “When you see people who have been struggling for many years and then winning it helps your confidence.”
A shot further back are the Spanish pair of Fernando Roca, who also received a late invitation to play here, and Francisco Cea, one of the most accurate drivers of the ball on Tour. Among the five players a further shot adrift is the local favourite, Jean Van de Velde, back playing in front of his home crowd after returning to Europe from the US Tour. The Open Championship runner-up picked up five birdies in his round of 68.
He said: “I’m playing in my own country in front of my own people and that helps. A lot of people are cheering for me. They are here to help me out. They want me to play well. Sometimes when I miss a putt I want to turn round and say I didn’t do it on purpose.”
Nevertheless his birdie four on the last when he hit a two-iron over the water into the heart of the green raised the biggest cheer of the day and leaves him well placed to mount a challenge to become the first French winner of their National Open for 31 years.
Also on four under par is Van de Velde’s Ryder Cup team-mate Jarmo Sandelin, who not only set a personal record of hitting every fairway and green in regulation but also became the first player since the introduction of the AXA performance statistics in 1998 to achieve a 100% record for both driving accuracy and greens hit.
“I hit all the fairways and all the greens,” said the Swede. “First time ever. I can’t believe it. Finally, after 20 odd years playing golf I managed to do that. It’s never too late to improve.”
Also on four under par are two Australians, Peter O’Malley and Stephen Allan, and Dane Soren Hansen.
Michael Campbell, winner of two European Tour events already this season and back after a two-month break shot a two under 70, while Colin Montgomerie, looking for his first win of the year, opened with a round of 71, one under par. Defending champion Retief Goosen opened with a 73.