South African Darren Fichardt returned from a two week holiday in Disneyland to lead the Open de France after a scintillating five under par 66 at Le Golf National took him one clear of former Masters Champion Ian Woosnam of Wales.
With the wind easing slightly for the afternoon starters, Fichardt built his round on a run of four birdies in succession from the second, his 11th, before capping an impressive day with a birdie four on the extended ninth hole, the toughest hole of the opening round.
Twice a winner on The European Tour International Schedule, Fichardt lies one ahead of Woosnam with Australian left-hander Richard Green a further stroke back on three under par while Jean-Francois Remesy delighting the home fans with a two under par 69 to lie joint fourth with Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts.
“I am feeling very refreshed after the holiday,” said Fichardt. “I haven’t had a holiday like that for quite a while. Today I started off not swinging too well, obviously after not touching a club in so long. But I managed to work the ball round the course and made some good putts. The swing came together on the second nine which was very good as there are quite a few tricky holes. Everything came together.”
Arguably his best hole was the seventh where saved par after driving into the hazard, dropped out under penalty, hit his recovery from a dreadful lie to 40 feet and holed the putt.
Woosnam led for much of the day having used “the old faithful” one iron to devastating effect as he posted a stunning four under par 67 in the worst of the weather at Le Golf National.
With winds gusting at 30 miles per hour and knee high rough ready to penalise an wayward shots, Woosnam used the old Ping one iron he first wielded at the Trophée Lancôme 21 years ago to find the fairway time and again.
While many struggled in the testing conditions, Woosnam, always a great ball striker, safely negotiated the tight fairways to give himself plenty of birdie chances.
Faced with trying to qualify for the Open Championship through the International Final Qualifying on Monday, Woosnam rummaged through his old clubs in his garage in search of the one iron he will need over the running Old and New courses at Sunningdale and decided to bring it to Paris to get used to it. He also reverted to a short putter for the first time since the Dubai Desert Classic, and despite feeling the need for a cigarette to calm the nerves every time he reached into his bag for it, calmly rolled in six birdie putts with just two dropped shots.
“All I can say is that I kept the ball reasonably in play,” said Woosnam. “That is the most important thing, to keep the ball on the fairway and then after that, try and get it on the green and hole a few putts. That’s what I did.
“I used my one iron a lot. I brought my one iron with me because of pre-qualifying at Sunningdale next week and they tell me it is running pretty fast so thought that would be the perfect club to keep it in play at Sunningdale. As it has turned out it has been useful around here. I usually only use it during the Open.”
Woosnam last won when he captured the 2001 World Match Play title although it has been seven years since he last won a strokeplay event.
Green was another player who spent last week in his garage although the Australian used his time in there to practice his putting stroke with a new Odyssey putter, the change of putting paying dividends as he posted a three under par 68.
Remesy, hoping to become the first home winner of the Open de France sice Jean Geraialde in 1968, made three birdies in his highly creditable 69, as did Colsaerts.
Among the group of players who broke par on the opening round was England’s Mark Roe who was relishing the tough challenge presented by Le Golf National. A first round of 70, one under par, left him just four strokes off the lead.
“I think the course is fantastic,” enthused Rose. “I love the way it is set up. It is like an Open Championship. It is just brilliant. You hit it in the rough, you have to come out sideways, if you can come out sideways. I played with Raymond Russell today and he had to hit one backwards. It is brutal, but if you play well you will get it round in under par or level par and that is a good round today. I love golf to be played like this, love it.
“In Ian Woosnam you have a great player, who is a great ball striker who has not been contending for a while, coming to the top of the leaderboard on a course that requires you to play great golf shots. That really is in essence what I think it should be about.”
Roe’s score was matched by Poulter, although the winner of five European Tour titles was slightly less impressed with the course changes and penal rough.
“My 70 could have been 65 realistically which would have been very impressive out there,” said Poulter, who narrowly missed the cut in the US Open last week when he bogeyed the last two holes. “I made one very, very good save but apart from that it couldn’t be a shot more which is nice. It was just a follow on from last week which was why last week was so disappointing. To finish bogey, bogey and pack you bags and off home you go when you feel you are swinging well and playing well.
“Last week was a serious test of golf and this week is another serious test. If it blows like this for four days then level par is a great number.”
Also on one under par was last month’s Telecom Italia Open Champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland who used all his experience of playing in wind at Portrush to break par, and Qualifying School graduate Caser Monasterio of Argentina.