A change of coach allied to a successful day on the greens paved the way for Robert Karlsson to post a six under par 65 and claim the lead after the first round of the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre.
High in the Swiss Alps, the Swede hit peak performance with only 24 putts in his round, good enough to edge ahead of Nick Faldo, Mathias Grönberg and Paul Lawrie, who all opened with 66, while a further five players ended their opening rounds on 67.
Karlsson made his intentions plain early in his round, starting at the tenth and immediately opening with a birdie putt from four feet but it was his finish on the spectacular Swiss course which really caught the eye.
In total, the Swede who celebrated his 33rd birthday two days ago, birdied four of the last five holes, saving the best for last with a curling 20 foot birdie effort up the slope on the ninth green.
“You always need a bit of luck to putt well,” said Karlsson. “The way the pins were put today you are going to miss a few greens and if you are just a little bit out you are going to catch one of the slopes on the greens and then you will be off. You definitely need to have a bit of luck to hit the right shots at the right time and I had that.”
As for the change of coach from Simon Holmes to fellow countryman Bjorn Rigby, Karlsson admitted he felt he needed a new approach to his driving.
“I felt like even though I played good last year I didn’t really improve and was always struggling with my driver and as a result I felt I didn’t give myself a chance to play well on the harder courses. Changing coaches is always admittedly a risk but I felt I had to take it.”
Of the trio in a tie for second spot on 66, the happiest was six time Major winner Nick Faldo who got his quest to move into the top 20 of the Volvo Order of Merit and thus secure a place in the World Golf Championships – American Express Championship at Mount Juliet in a fortnight’s time, off to the best possible start.
The 45 year old Englishman, like Karlsson, started at the tenth hole but was flawless throughout his round, birdies coming at the 12th, 13th and fifth, with the highlight of his round being an eagle three from ten feet at the 543 yard first hole, after his three iron approach shot had pierced the heart of the green.
“I am just trying to be very disciplined out there, trying to do what I want to do on each shot and if I keep doing that we shall see,” he said. “It is good to feel a bit of pressure, because that is how you learn what to do with your golf swing to make it happen, the key things that have to happen to get the good shots when you want them.”
Joining Faldo in a share of second on 66 was the 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie, who looked like he would share pole position with Karlsson until an errant tee shot at the last caught a tree and cost him a bogey five.
“It was disappointing to finish like that but overall I played really well and hit the ball very solidly,” said Lawrie, the winner of The Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open on The European Tour last month. “I’ve been flighting the ball nicely, been doing a lot of work in the gym trying to get a little bit stronger so it is all been coming together over the past few months.”
Making up the trio in third place on 66 was Mathias Grönberg, who like Faldo also eagled the first hole, his tenth of the round, as well as notching four other birdies.
“I missed the green on both the second and third but made good up and downs to save par there,” said the Swede.
“I was a little bit annoyed I didn’t make birdie on the seventh but apart from that it was a nice round to start with. Minus five is always a good start. I didn’t really take care of all opportunities but I scrambled and I’m happy with the score.”
Five players shared fifth place on 67 after the opening round, Alex Cejka, Miguel Angel Jiménez, David Park, Carl Pettersson and Brett Rumford, while Open champion Ernie Els, bogeyed the last hole to open with a 70.