Retief Goosen chose the perfect time to produce his lowest round of the year, a superb eight under par 63 at Saint-Nom-La-Bretèche giving the South African the lead after the first round of the 34th Trophée Lancôme.
The sterling effort, also the reigning Volvo Order of Merit champion’s lowest at the French course, gave Goosen a one shot advantage at the head of affairs from Sweden’s Mikael Lundberg, with England’s Simon Wakefield third after his tidy opening 65.
It was a measure of Goosen’s excellent form that he left the course slightly aggrieved his final score was not even better, needing a birdie three at his final hole of the day, the 374 yard ninth, to break the course record 62, but walking off instead with a bogey five after finding the greenside bunker with his sand wedge approach.
“I had no idea about the course record to be honest with you, I just wanted to shoot the lowest score that I could, so in that respect it was a shame about the last hole,” he said.
“But overall I am very happy with the round. I got a few nice breaks out there and holed a lot of good putts to get me off to a good start and hopefully I can build on that as the week goes on.
"This year I have been pleased with my level of consistency but a little disappointed not to have won. But, having won here in 2000, I have a lot of good memories of this golf course, so hopefully this can be the week that I make the breakthrough.”
Certainly if the South African repeats the form during the rest of the week he unleashed on Saint-Nom-La-Bretèche in the first round he will be a hard man to catch. After playing the back nine first and reaching the ‘turn’ in two under par 33, Goosen’s challenge caught fire turning for home.
A birdie three at the first was followed by four more birdies in a row from the third before his shot of the day came at the 508 yard, par five eighth hole, a sublime second shot finishing a mere four feet from the pin from where he holed for eagle three.
It left the winner of the Volvo Order of Merit in 2001 and 2002 needing a birdie three at the ninth to break Mark Pilkington’s record of 62 set in the event last year and, in the centre of the fairway from the tee, he seemed perfectly poised to do so and be home in 28.
But his sand wedge approach slipped into the right hand greenside bunker, leaving a devilishly difficult escape. Goosen did well to get the ball to ten feet but his par effort stayed above ground and he had to be content with an inward half of 30 for 63.
Second placed Lundberg was also delighted with his opening 64 which, like Goosen, represented his lowest round of the 2003 season, and gave him the ideal chance to buck the recent trend which has seen him miss seven of his last ten cuts.
Best spell for the 30 year old Swede, whose best European Tour performance came in 2000 when he was second in the North West of Ireland Open, came around the turn when he birdied five holes in a row from the eighth.
A birdie at the 16th gave him a glimpse of the lead but that was removed when he dropped a shot at the 422 yard 17th. But Lundberg recovered well and despite flirting with the water at the par three 18th, his ball found the green and from 20 feet he found the bottom of the cup for a closing birdie two.
Third placed Wakefield, who recorded his best European Tour finish in June when he tied for fifth place in the Open de France at Le Golf National in Paris, continued his love affair with France with another excellent showing.
The 29 year old, who alongside fellow Englishman Lee James has contested the largest number of tournaments on The 2003 European Tour International Schedule, showed little signs of fatigue in his 29th outing of the year.
A flawless front nine of 33 featured birdies at the second, sixth and seventh, and while the back nine featured his only dropped shot of the day – at the 416 yard 11th – the nephew of former England wicketkeeper Bob Taylor recovered well with four other birdies to be home in 32.
One shot further behind on 66, in a tie for fourth place, was Ireland’s Ryder Cup hero Paul McGinley, Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts, Australia’s Terry Price and Carlos Rodiles of Spain. The latter duo shared the honour of shot of the day, Price holing in one at the 189 yard 12th, while Rodiles repeated the feat at the 153 yard seventh. Both men received trendy scooters for their efforts.
Further down the leaderboard, Open Golf Champion Ben Curtis, making his first appearance in Europe since his memorable victory at Royal St George’s, completed a satisfactory opening round with a two under par 69.
“Considering I have had a bit of time away from the clubs recently and the practice round on Wednesday was my first competitive round in ten days, I’m pretty pleased with that effort,” said Curtis, trying to become the first American to win the title since Mark O’Meara in 1997.