Eric Chaudouet delighted the home crowd when became only the fourth amateur to lead an official European Tour event after the first round when he shot an opening six under par 66 in the Open de France at Le Golf National. He was joined at the top of the leaderboard by Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and England’s Philip Golding.
The 2002 French Amateur Champion, who won the title over the Albatross Course at Le Golf National, was clearly unfazed in his first appearance on The European Tour International Schedule as he rolled in six birdies without a bogey to post the early target which only Colsaerts and Golding could match.
The 25 year old, who also represented France in the World Championships last year, joins the select group of Niels Boysen, Anders Hultman and Krister Kinell as amateurs to lead after the first round. Spain’s Pablo Martin is the only amateur to have led in the letter stages of a tournament having topped the leaderboard after three rounds of the Canarias Open de España earlier this year while the best finish by an amateur in an official European Tour event is joint fourth.
Despite leading his national championship and the oldest championship in Continental Europe, Chaudouet was not getting carried away with his position at the top. “I am not as good as the professionals, but not that far behind. I have just played well and done the job. If the putts continue to fall anything is possible.
“I know the course very well – it is my garden,” said Chaudouet. “I won the French Amateur Championship here and have played it more than 30 times.”
Colsaerts moved into a share of the lead after a blistering start to his round in which he picked up seven birdies on his first eight holes including six in succession from the third. His run came to a shuddering halt with a bogey on the ninth but the 20 year old was still out in just 30 strokes. More damaging was the bogey on the tenth, where he missed the green with a sand iron followed by a short missed putt on the 12th. However he got his round back on track with two late birdies to finish on six under par.
“If anyone had said I would shoot 30 on the front nine I would have been pretty pleased,” he said. “But I didn’t know how to handle it. I was thinking about a 60 because I was in the zone so I probably thought about it too much.”
Nevertheless the 66 represented his second best return on The European Tour since turning professional in 2000 on his 18th birthday, a few days before becoming the youngest player to earn Membership of The European Tour through the Qualifying School. After struggling to come to terms with life on the professional circuit at such a young age, Colsaerts lost his card and returned to the Challenge Tour. An impressive 2002 season brought him an immediate return to the regular Tour after finishing tenth in the Challenge Tour Rankings and he has come out a much stronger player.
“It was difficult,” he said when asked about being on Tour as an 18 year old. “I felt I was ready because I have always been confident but when you get out here you think you know a couple of things but actually you don’t. I matured a lot on the Challenge Tour last year.”
While Chaudouet and Colsaerts represented the young brigade, Golding struck a blow for some of the older players as the 40 year old matched the young guns on 66. At the end of last season he was considering his options as he faced a 16th visit to the Qualifying School after losing his Tour card by the narrowest of margins despite a courageous final round of 63 during his last event in Italy.
He was persuaded to go back to the School and it proved a wise decision as he earned the third card and has enjoyed a solid season, currently occupying 79th place in the Volvo Order of Merit.
“I did all the right things on the course,” he said. “No mistakes, made six birdies and no bogeys which is always nice. I didn’t strike the ball as I would like but kept the ball in play and the bad shots were okay. I drove well and putted nicely.”
England’s Gary Birch Jnr, Bradley Dredge of Wales and the Spanish pair of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Manuel Lara are a further shot back on five under par.
Justin Rose, playing his first event since finishing fifth in the US Open, posted a four under par 68 despite incurring a one stroke penalty after accidentally stepping on his ball in the rough on the 17th.
Stephen Leaney, runner-up at the US Open, shot a solid two under par 70, a score matched by the 2001 Champion Jose Maria Olazábal.