A blistering start allied to a superb finish saw Alex Cejka continue to tap into a rich vein of form, a seven under par 64 giving the German the first round lead in the Trophée Lancôme at Saint-Nom-La-Bretèche.
Last month, in his last European Tour outing, the 32 year old finished second in the Linde German Masters, only one shot adrift of eventual champion Stephen Leaney, and he wasted little time in trying to go one better.
Cejka’s 64 saw him finish a shot clear of six players, Nick Faldo, Tom Gillis, Fredrik Jacobson, Richard S Johnson, Maarten Lafeber and Dean Robertson, while Mathias Grönberg, Stephen Scahill and Steve Webster completed their opening salvos with 66s.
Cejka made his intentions clear right from the off with four birdies in a row to start his round, a run which helped him to the turn in 32. Another birdie followed at the 12th before the German finished with a flourish, birdieing the 422 yard 17th before almost holing in one at the 209 yard 18th, his tap-in for a birdie two the icing on the cake.
One shot adrift, Nick Faldo gave the clearest sign that he was deadly serious with his intention of trying to play his way into the 2004 Ryder Cup Team with a performance which would have impressed any prospective watching captain.
Like Cejka, Faldo began with four straight birdies but went one better than the German and reached the turn in 31. Further birdies at the tenth and from 12 feet at the 15th moved the 45 year old Englishman alongside Cejka before a three putt bogey at the 17th saw him have to settle for an opening 65.
Despite the untidy finish, Faldo was delighted with his overall showing. “That was great, I really enjoyed that,” he said. “I played well and putted well so it was very nice. I think that is about as good as I could have played today.
“The start was just what I needed after last week when I didn’t really putt that well at all. I came out, looked at the hole, read my line and just knocked the putts in. I managed to stay with that all day and I will now try and keep that focus for the rest of the week.”
Alongside Faldo on 65, Dean Robertson was equally delighted to be amongst the higher echelons of the leaderboard but for altogether different reasons.
The 32 year old Scot was playing in only his fifth event of the year after seven months out of the game suffering from clinical depression. After playing in the Johnnie Walker Classic at the end of January, Robertson did not touch a club for months and only made his comeback in the Omega European Masters last month.
He missed the cut in Switzerland and the two tournaments he has played since, but a round which featured seven birdies in total, including a curling 15 footer at the 18th, suggested the corner could be about to be turned.
“I’m feeling great and really enjoying my golf and I’m playing well too,” he said. “Although I missed the cut in the last three weeks I’ve been pretty happy with my game – I’m enjoying it but today was a good day, a big bonus for me.
“I’m particularly pleased to have done this in the first round because they have not been very good of late and as a result I’ve been leaving myself with too much to do. But today surpassed my expectations.”
Of the other four players who opened with 65s, the only flawless showing came from Richard S Johnson, winner of the ANZ Championship at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney in February, who notched birdies at the first, second, seventh, 12th, 13th and 15th.
Further down the leaderboard, defending champion Sergio Garcia tried out a brand new set of clubs and proved the experiment to be a success as he completed a flawless four under par 67, escaping from sand at the last two holes to keep his card intact.
"I feel pretty comfortable with the clubs and I’m pretty pleased with that,” said Garcia, who finished alongside a host of players including his Ryder Cup team-mate Paul McGinley.
“It was perhaps not quite as consistent as I have been, but every time you leave a course without having dropped a shot you have to be pretty happy.”