Almost two years ago to the day, Christian Cévaër won his maiden European Tour title in the 2004 Canarias Open de España. In the 24 months which followed, French golf enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance with six European Tour titles being won by French golfers and Cévaër gave notice he was keen to join the winners’ circle again when he moved into the lead after the first round of the Volvo China Open.
The 36 year old carded a flawless six under par 66 around the testing Honghua International Golf Club in Beijing to grab a one shot advantage over six players – the English trio of Simon Dyson, Ross Fisher and Simon Wakefield, Portugal’s José-Filipe Lima, Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Peter Hanson of Sweden – the magnificent seven at the head of affairs confirming The European Tour’s dominance of the opening day in the co-sanctioned event with the Asian Tour.
Cévaër put his prominence down to some solid ball striking allied to some excellent bunker play which saw him get up and down from sand on four occasions to save par as well as holing out from a greenside bunker for his first birdie of the day at the third hole.
After that, his five birdies were more routine but all featured short putts ranging in distance from two to six feet as his precision iron play peppered the pins on the Nick Faldo designed course.
Cévaër’s performance will give the former French amateur champion the bragging rights at dinner with his seven compatriots this evening and he admitted it was such camaraderie and joie de vivre which had helped him and his fellow countrymen become a force in the realms of The European Tour.
“There is a good atmosphere within the group,” he said. “There was eight of us at dinner the other night and for the past two or three seasons that has been the case. I guess I am proud of having got it going with my Spanish win in 2004 and then in that year we had three more winners.
“Last year, Thomas (Levet) and Raphaël (Jacquelin) did very well and obviously Jean Francois’ (Remesy) feat of winning the French Open again was superb. We try and emulate one another and we know we can now be a factor on the Tour.”
Of the sextet in a tie for second place, the most delighted was the Wentworth Club-attached Ross Fisher – for two good reasons. Firstly, another good performance will all but guarantee his card for the 2007 season – a fantastic performance by the rookie before the end of April – but also will give him a chance to put right the wrongs of his appearance in the last Volvo China Open, in Shenzhen last November.
Then, the 25 year old led going into the final round but, although he played well on his European Tour debut, he could not make the putts drop at the right time on the back nine, allowing Paul Casey to come through and beat his good friend Oliver Wilson in a play-off.
But an opening round, which featured six birdies and only one dropped shot, gave notice that he might be able to handle a final round occasion should the opportunity present itself again in three days time.
“I felt like I played pretty well on the last day last year,” he said. “To start off I felt a little bit nervous and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t but I felt I handled myself really well but for some reason the back nine, the putts just didn’t drop for me.
“But I took a lot out of it, to play my first event and to be leading after three days and have a chance of winning and to be the last person teeing off on Sunday was a massive thrill. I feel I have learned a lot from that experience and it is just now about going out there and holding it together for one more day.”
While seven European Tour players held sway at the top of the leaderboard, two of their colleagues who were fancied to be there with them had indifferent days, defending champion Casey recovering late in his round to post a one under par 71, while the leading World Ranked player in the field – Number 13 Henrik Stenson – had to settle for a disjointed one over par 73.
Casey, who was one over par with five to play before rescuing matters slightly with back to back birdies at the 14th and 15th, said; “. I struggled out there today. I thought it was very nice this morning and scoring conditions were perfect but I didn’t take advantage of those.
“The back nine was much better than the front nine and I did struggle on the greens today, I couldn’t seem to figure them out and was missing putts both left and right so I have lots to work on there. But the ball striking was good so if I can build on that and take that form into tomorrow then hopefully things will be better for me.
“Only five behind is a small mountain to climb but it is not impossible. I need to put in a good round tomorrow morning, something in the 60s and hopefully the leaders will struggle a bit. But if I can keep in touch and remain only four or five back after tomorrow’s round then I feel I am in good shape for the weekend.”
|1||SINGH, Jeev Milkha||IND||18||-10|