Scotland’s Alastair Forsyth fired six birdies in a flawless opening round of 64, six under par, to earn himself a share of the lead with Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Gary Murphy of Ireland after the first round of the Dutch Open at Hilversumche Golf Club.
Forsyth, one of five players in the field who competed in last week’s World Golf Championship – American Express Championship, shrugged off the effects of jet lag to post the early target as he seeks to cap his best season on The European Tour with a victory.
The 27 year old from Paisley currently lies in 19th place in the Volvo Order of Merit thanks to consistent season that has included two runners-up finishes in the Diageo Championship at Gleneagles and the Smurfit European Open and he is now setting his sights on finishing in the top 15 to secure a berth in next year’s US Open Championship.
It is a marked difference to two years ago when he was fighting for a place in the top 115 to retain his playing rights on The European Tour. On that occasion he missed out by one place but a few months later got his career back on track when, playing on a sponsors invitation, he won the Carlsberg Malaysian Open.
“It just goes to show there is such a fine line in golf,” said Forsyth. “There is little difference between the guys at the top and those in the middle as you can see by so many first time winners this year. The strength in depth on The European Tour is very strong. I don’t feel I am a much better player than I was two years ago but the difference in the Volvo Order of Merit is frightening.
“I would be delighted to get into the top 15 in the Volvo Order of Merit but no matter how I finished it is still a good year. I haven’t won yet but have had a couple of good seconds, been very consistent and played in two majors for the first time and the WGC – American Express Championship. It’s been a big step forward for me.”
His score was matched by Donaldson who has his own target in terms of the Volvo Order of Merit as he aims to secure his place in the top 60 and a place in the season ending Volvo Masters Andalucia. Donaldson is currently in 58th place. A eighth birdie of the day on his final hole, the eighth at Hilversumche GC, lifted him into a share of the lead.
“It was an important birdie to finish, it gives you a big boost to see your name at the top of the leaderboard,” he said. “I played the eighth well and finished on a high.”
Murphy, currently two places ahead of Donaldson in 56th place in the Volvo Order of Merit, also has his eyes on playing in the Volvo Masters Andalucia for the first time and made the perfect start to consolidate that place with his own 64 which included a run of three birdies and an eagle around the turn.
Further down the Volvo Order of Merit there are plenty of players with a place in the top 115 their primary target including England’s David Carter, one of a number of players here this week needing something special to retain their playing privileges for the 2004 season. Carter, winner of the 1998 Irish Open after beating Colin Montgomerie in a play-off, is lying 133rd in the Volvo Order of Merit and needs a strong finish to the season if he is to avoid the tough examination of the Qualifying School Finals.
An opening 65, five under par, helped by an eagle three on the 12th, Carter’s third, was exactly the kind of start he needed and for the first time for many months he was back enjoying the game as he used to.
“It is not a matter of life and death,” said Carter and he should know having narrowly escaped losing his life when he required emergency brain surgery after collapsing in his hotel room in Dubai in 1997. “At the end of the day it is a game of golf. If I have to go to the Tour School then so be it but I feel I am a good enough player to come through this.”
Also on five under par is another Englishman David Lynn who, despite not feeling totally comfortable with his game, managed to pick up five birdies and an eagle in his round of 65 and Sweden’s Fredrik Widmark.
Among the group on 66, four under par, is former Volvo PGA Champion Tony Johnstone who recorded his first sub-par round for many months having struggled with a virus for much of the year. Like Carter, the Zimbabwean is in danger of losing his European Tour card for the first time in 24 years, lying in 176th place in the Volvo Order of Merit but he was clearly delighted with his opening round.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Johnstone. “I have had an awful year but that is the nature of the game. This is my first round under par for about seven months.”
Johnstone’s troubles started last October when, the week before the dunhill links championship, he woke to find his left arm numb. He initial thought was he had slept awkwardly but then the numbness spread to all down his left side. An MRI scan identified a virus but it was only three months ago, after a relapse the week of final qualifying for the Open Championship, that the virus was identified as Coxsackie B4, the effects of which included chronic fatigue and a loss of co-ordination. Although the virus is now out of his system, it will take some months for Johnstone to return to full health.
He now needs to produce some high finishes in the next three weeks to secure his place on the 2004 European Tour International Schedule rather than relying on sponsors invitations and exemptions for those tournaments he has won in the past.
The home crowd had plenty to cheer about with Rolf Muntz posting a four under par 66 and Maarten Lafeber racing to the turn in 30 strokes before dropping a couple on the homeward stretch.