Lee Westwood and Stephen Leaney, winners of the last two TNT Dutch Opens, showed that a change of venue from Hilversum to Noordwijk hadn’t dulled their appetite for success in Holland as they soared to the top of the leader board after the first round.
Leaney fired a six under par 66 to share top place with Swede Richard Johnson while Westwood sits on five under alongside another past winner, Mark Mouland, Roger Winchester, Anders Hansen and little known Dutchman Ralph Miller after the first round.
Westwood secured the title with a final round of 63 last year, while twelve months earlier Leaney had fended off the Englishman’s challenge over the weekend to win his second European Tour title.
In the first round at the majestic Noordwijkse course – an unusual combination of links and trees which last staged the tournament in 1993 – Leaney fired six birdies and did not drop a shot to occupy the outright leadership.
Right behind him, one stroke back, are Westwood, Mouland, Hansen, Winchester and 24 year old Miller, the son of an American father and Dutch mother, who is coached by the head pro at Noordwijkse, Irishman Tom O’Mahoney.
Australian Leaney admitted: “There is no relevance to two years ago, other than the fact that you have to drive well at Hilversum and here too. That is one of my specialities. I’ve made a lot of 72s and 73s recently but I guess that a 66 was missing. I hadn’t been holing putts but today I did.”
Johnson, second in the Madeira Island Open on his first season on Tour, was the last man in, and his 66 matched the earlier effort of Leaney. He said: “That is one of the most solid rounds I’ve played and it could have been a few better.”
Westwood, relieved to be far away from St.Andrews and the variable bounces which he hates so much, revealed: “I don’t have post-Open blues and it wasn’t hard to get up for this weekend, especially being defending champion.
“My game is in good shape. I played fantastic from tee to green and for the last eleven holes I had good chances on all but one hole. Apart from the 11th I wasn’t outside 15 feet but I putted like a chump for most of the day.”
If Westwood had putted like Miller he could have shot out the lights. The young man from Alkmaar, who was at college in Houston at the same time as Tiger Woods as at Stanford, had just eight putts in an inward nine of 31.
His retired father worked in the oil industry while Miller himself speaks Dutch and English fluently and holds Dutch and American passports. He said: “I was born here and have lived in Holland for the last ten years. I have played in this event for the last six years and haven’t made the cut.”
Mouland, the champion in 1988, made two bogeys from three putts, but was otherwise on top of his game in shooting a 67. After losing his card last year, it’s been a difficult season for the Welshman, who said: “My year? There hasn’t been one. My whole life has been turned upside down and I have had just one invitation all year.
“I’ve stopped writing for them. It’s a waste of time. However I will go back to the Qualifying School if necessary. I can still play this game and I want to play on Tour for as long as possible.”
The return to Holland also revived happy memories for Justin Rose, who turned pro two years ago this week and was the subject in intense media hype following his fourth place in the Open at Royal Birkdale.
Two years on from his professional debut at Hilversum, Rose shot an opening four under par 68 to be handily placed. Rose, who will be 20 on Sunday, admitted: “I definitely prefer things low key after all the media hype. Woods has it every week but has the necessary tools to handle it. I thought I was handling it okay but obviously I wasn’t.
Publicity is good and it’s obviously opened a lot of doors for me, but I am trying to get back into the news for the right reasons.
“I don’t think I’m over the low period either but I think it’s made me mentally tougher. I’m really happy now and just playing golf, which is nice.”