Barclays Scottish Open Champion Thomas Levet of France shares the clubhouse lead in the rain-delayed World Golf Championships – NEC Invitational after an opening two under par 68 put him alongside Americans Jim Furyk and Davis Love III.
But only 16 of the 76 man field were able to complete their first rounds after six hours were lost to heavy rain at Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio, and of those out on the course, American Stewart Cink, handed a wild card by US Ryder Cup Team Captain Hal Sutton on Monday, is setting the early pace having reached five under par through ten holes.
Levet is on course to become only the second Frenchman to play in The Ryder Cup Matches after Jean Van de Velde as the leading player in the European Points List after those qualified through the World Points List. He won the Barclays Scottish Open with one of the great final rounds of the year, capping his 63 off with a stunning birdie on the last for a back nine of 29 to win by a stroke, and the following week the popular Frenchman was again challenging for top honours at the Open Golf Championship at Royal Troon.
He missed the cut at Whistling Straits in last week’s US PGA Championship by a stroke after incurring a one stroke penalty in the second round when his ball moved as he addressed it on the fourth hole, but shrugged off that disappointment with an impressive first round at Akron to lead the European Tour challenge on the opening day.
Sergio Garcia of Spain, who is certain to join Levet at Oakland Hills Country Club for The 35th Ryder Cup Matches from September 17-19, is also on the two under par mark through 14 holes.
Swede Jesper Parnevik, who teamed up with Garcia so well in past Ryder Cup Matches, is also under par after an opening 69, a score matched by Argentina’s Angel Cabrera.
The first five Members of the European Ryder Cup team bound for Detroit will be finalised on Sunday night after the final round of the WGC – NEC Invitational and Swede Fredrik Jacobson, one place outside the qualifiers on the World Points List, is chasing one of those spots. To achieve that he needs to earn just over eight world ranking points more than fifth placed Lee Westwood, equating to a minimum requirement of a top 13 finish depending on Westwood does. Both started strongly and lie one under par, Jacobson having played 17 holes and Westwood 13.
England’s Barry Lane, European Tour Number One Ernie Els of South Africa and Australian Brett Rumford, winner of last month’s Nissan Irish Open, are also under par out on the course.
Defending champion Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, the only player after Tiger Woods to win multiple WGC events, was two over par through 16 holes.
Of the other players hoping to earn a place in Bernhard Langer’s European side seeking to retain Sam Ryder’s golden chalice next month, there were mixed fortunes. Paul McGinley of Ireland, who holed the winning putt at The De Vere Belfry, climbed into the tenth and final qualifying place after his joint sixth finish in last week’s US PGA Championship but he lies three over par through 15 holes in joint 61st place. But Swede Joakim Haeggman, who needs to overtake McGinley if he is to earn a second Ryder Cup cap, fared worse, lying six over par through 13 holes.
World Number One Tiger Woods, winner of the first three WGC – NEC Invitational events, birdied three of the first four holes and got to five under par through 15 holes as he chases his first strokeplay title of the year – his only victory to date in 2004 being in the WC – Accenture Match Play – but he failed to get up and down at the 16th and 17th holes for par to fall back to three under par.
Woods’s reign as World Number One is under threat more than ever this week with Fiji’s Vijay Singh, an Honorary Member of The European Tour, hot on his heels following his US PGA Championship victory last weekend. Should Singh finish ahead of Woods this week, there will be a new World Number One, but with Singh starting with a three over par 73, Woods maintains the upper hand.
The first round will resume at 07.30 local time.