Eduardo Romero, without a European Tour victory since capturing the Canon European Masters in 1994, made a decisive start in his bid to win the title for a second time at Crans-sur-Sierre with an opening seven under par 64 to lead the field by a shot.
Romero, 46, overtook Michael Campbell late in a day which had seen the Kiwi set the pace with a 65. South African Hennie Otto fired a 66 for third place with Brett Rumford of Australia and local favourite Paulo Quirici sharing fourth on 67.
The scenic Swiss course, admitted Romero, gave him a feeling of a ‘home from home’. He explained: “I also live in high altitude in Cordoba in Argentina. It is 1500 metres here and only 800 metres at home – and still high enough!”
Romero proved to be a high flier in terms of his scorecard, birdieing the first, holing his second shot for an eagle at the sixth from 110 yards and slotting in four more birdie putts.
The experienced and popular Argentinian golfer revealed that he has taken up a form of yoga to assist his concentration on the course, an area in which he felt he had let himself down in the past.
“It is something which came from India called Rhamil Hayat. I started because I know concentration is my problem. I do it every morning before I play and every night. It’s just mental work and my concentration is much better now.”
Campbell, suffering from a head cold and popping enough aspirin to be a rattling medicine chest, was not deflected from his task as he opened with a 65. Playing with last week’s BMW International Open champion, Thomas Björn, proved therapeutic, however, as the two players have been egging each other on for several weeks now.
“It’s quite funny” he said. “We have this little game going starting from five weeks ago. I was about £100,000 ahead of Thomas and niggling him about it and he finished second in the Open and overtook me. I was second in the Scandinavian Masters and overtook him. Then all of a sudden he was third in the US PGA and first last week so it’s healthy to have this friendly rivalry.”
Otto, sixth on the Challenge Tour Rankings last season, attributed his recent good form to a change of management company. He has linked up with two fellow South Africans from Cape Town and is enjoying the personal attention.
“I feel more comfortable” said Otto, who had five birdies in a row from the fifth. “We speak the same language, Afrikans, and can communicate better. That’s what it’s all about.”
Darren Clarke birdied the last for a 68 while defending champion Lee Westwood finished among an illustrious group on two under par alongside Nick Faldo, Phillip Price and Miguel Angel Jiménez.
Faldo was reasonably satisfied with his start, and re-affirmed his intention to play ten of out of his next 12 tournaments on the European Tour as a means of playing his way into the 2001 Ryder Cup team.
The 11-time Ryder Cup man also approved of the status quo regarding the qualification system for next year’s contest. He said: “I think ten qualifiers and two picks is fine. That’s what we’ve always had and it all comes out in the wash in the end.”