England’s Daren Lee shot a career best six under par 64 over the Sangliers course at Lyon Golf Club, reduced to a par 70 after heavy rain, to take the clubhouse lead in the Novotel Perrier Open de France.
Heavy overnight rain delayed the start of the first round for four hours and organisers were forced to reduce the waterlogged 571 yard par five fifth hole to a 177 yard par three, bringing the par of the course down to a 70. But while only half the 150 strong field were able to complete their opening rounds, Lee shrugged off the wait with a flawless round to lead Swede Anders Forsbrand and compatriots Warren Bennett and Jonathan Lomas by a stroke.
The 31 year old, whose best finish was joint fifth in the BMW International Open last year, put his success down to some added loft on his putter, achieved by a “whack with the hammer”.
“I struggled with my putting last week in Portugal,” he said. “I just put some more loft on my putter, another two degrees on it and it helps get the ball rolling. I thought putting some loft on would be a big job but the Ping guy did it in no time. Just whacked it with a hammer. It makes me feel better and more confident. I really enjoyed it.”
As usual Lee chose to avoid a practice round, opting instead to walk the course with a bit of chipping and putting while drawing every hole to get a feel for the course. His technique, which he has adopted since his amateur days, clearly worked as he rolled in six birdies without a dropped shot.
He added: “I think what I do is better than a practice round. I do more chipping, more putting. Get the lines off the tee, different lengths so I know exactly where I am going and draw every hole. It saves me energy. I can get here Tuesday lunchtime and can do the whole course in three or four hours. I prefer doing that.”
Twelve months ago Lomas was denied victory only by the brilliance of Colin Montgomerie and once again the Englishman showed his liking for the tournament with a five under par 65. A 48 foot birdie putt on his 17th, the eighth on the course, proved the highlight of his round.
“I’ve been practising hard,” he said. “I suppose it comes along eventually. The putt on the eighth was exactly 48 feet. I’ve been counting how far I have been holing from to try to get to 100 feet in a round and when you hole a 48 footer it helps. It just makes me pay attention to the putts I hole.”
Bennett, runner up in the Caltex Singapore Masters earlier this year, picked up five birdies. His round got going after a stroke of luck on the 18th, his ninth, where a pushed three wood carried the water guarding the green by a mere foot from where he was able to chip and putt for a birdie. From there he picked up two more birdies in succession to move within a shot of the lead.
“Things are just bubbling up a bit,” he said. “It’s getting better but you can never predict anything in this game. It’s been a good start to the season. I would have taken it. To keep my playing rights for next year was the number one goal after everything that happened last year.”
Forsbrand, 40 last month and a winner of six European Tour titles, picked up six birdies with just the one dropped shot on the first, his tenth where he left his eight foot putt short.
“That was the worst it could have been,” he said. “Everything is going in the right direction.”
Pre-tournament favourite José Maria Olazábal shot a four under par 66 to lie in the group just two shots off the pace.
Play will resume at 8am local time on Friday morning.