While Nick Dougherty was notching up his first victory on The European Tour in January, Klas Eriksson was laid low at home in Sweden, stricken by a particularly debilitating virus. Four months on, at Carton House Golf Club in Co Kildare, the Swede was at least fit to compete with the Englishman on an equal footing in the first round of the Nissan Irish Open.
A four under par 68 was the common denominator for both are they led a top class field over the exquisite, but demanding, Colin Montgomerie designed course, but while Dougherty explained his frustration at not emulating his success in Singapore, 33 year old Eriksson was just happy to be healthy.
Still awaiting his first Tour victory, 11 years after recording a career-best second place in the Czech Open, Eriksson threw six birdies, an eagle and four bogeys into an eclectic round of golf and admitted: “I am here, and I’m happy to be playing.”
He explained: “I caught a virus in my liver in December and it completely took me out. I was in bed for three months, sleeping 15 hours a day, and lost ten kilos of muscle. I was in Australia at the time and I started feeling very, very weak and I didn’t know what it was.
“Eventually the doctors found out that it was a liver virus – something close to glandular fever – and I’ve been very, very sick. Lying in bed for three months is not going to help. I tried to come back in Dubai but withdrew after one day. There was no medication I could take. The body had to recover in its own time.
“Now I feel my strength is nearly normal and I have very positive feelings in my mind, which is good. Not long ago just walking 200 yards would be an extreme achievement.”
Eriksson, normally a drawer of the golf ball, decided just prior to his first round that it might be beneficial to play the course as the designer intended. He added: “Monty didn’t design this with a draw in mind so I decided to play a fade and that’s what I did. It’s a fantastic competitive golf course. Anyone who wins on this course will be very proud of himself on Sunday afternoon.”
Dougherty started with a pair of ugly bogeys but responded with an eagle and five birdies in his 68. He said: “I have high expectations after winning in Singapore and I’ve been beating myself up badly because I’ve set the bar at perfection but golf isn’t like that and it’s taken me a few months of miserable golf to realise that.
“I was distraught at missing the cut last week. I didn’t think I could miss a cut this year after my start to the season but it’s brought me down to the point where I realise I can’t win every week. It doesn’t happen, not even to the best players in the field, and I think I needed to back off myself a bit.”
Another Swede with a first victory on his mind, Matthias Eliasson, was tied for third with Welshman Stephen Dodd, Colm Moriarty of Ireland and Australian Peter O’Malley while the sextet on two under par included Ryder Cup team mates, Darren Clarke, David Howell and Lee Westwood with Montgomerie delighted to complete the first competitive round over his own creation with a commendable 71.
England’s Simon Khan, the Celtic Manor Wales Open winner, incurred an £8000 fine for slow play from The European Tour under the ‘doubling up’ procedure when he registered a bad time at the 17th hole. Khan finished with a two under par 70.