Jean Van de Velde can at last see light at the end of the tunnel after a course record equalling 64 at Le Golf National gave the Frenchman an early one stroke lead in the Open de France.
Van de Velde has been plagued by injury since undergoing knee surgery in 2003 but a flawless seven birdie round gave the clearest indication yet that the 39 year old has turned a corner.
He lies one stroke clear of England’s Jonathan Lomas, whose 65 included a lost ball on the third, with Miguel Angel Jiménez, the highest ranked player in the field, leading the group on four under par 67 when thunderstorms brought a halt to play on the Albatross Course at le Golf National near Versailles.
Van de Velde is competing in his national Open on a sponsors invitation having lost his card as he has struggled to regain fitness and made the most of his opportunity.
He has given himself a target of the end of 2006 to get back on to The European Tour but he can achieve that goal this week, even with a fifth place finish in a tournament that offers the biggest prize money in continental Europe.
Van de Velde's problems began with a skiing accident that caused his right knee reconstruction in July 2002 and six months later he needed further surgery.
After countless fitness regimes and three unsuccessful comebacks, Van de Velde gave himself a last chance this April when he returned to the fairways and his 64 has given him hope his career is not over.
"I have given myself up to the end of next year to get back on Tour," said the 39-year-old Frenchman.
"When you can shoot 64 over a course like this you know you have played good golf because it is a good test.
"If I can keep playing like this and things go my way, then everything is in reach."
A Van de Velde victory would mean a second successive French win after Jean-Francois Remesy ended a 35-year wait for a home champion last year.
"Jean-Francois broke the curse last year," said Van de Velde. "The French players used to say if Jean Van de Velde can do it, so can I, and now I'm saying if Jean-Francois can do it, so can I."
Lomas took heart from a successful US Open debut in which he finished tied 57th at Pinehurst, having qualified at Walton Heath with US Open winner Michael Campbell.
“I learned quite a lot last week and today I didn’t try and push too much,” said Lomas, runner-up to Colin Montgomerie over the Albatross course in 2000 and fourth last year. “I just played sensible golf and tried not to get greedy and go for things and let the birdie chances come. I managed to putt nicely today and take some of the chances. Planned my way round the course well. If you go pushing on this course you are going to be in the long grass and make big numbers. In the Walton Heath qualifying that is how I played that round.”
Jiménez, Dane Anders Hansen, South African Richard Sterne and another Frenchman Francois Delamontagne are a further two strokes back having completed their rounds. Scot Raymond Russell and Soren Hansen, also of Denmark, are on four under par having played six holes and ten holes respectively before play was suspended due to a thunderstorm at 15.30 local time.
Half the field are still to complete their first rounds which will resume at 07.30am.