England’s Simon Khan put his signature to the day’s best score by two strokes and was rewarded with the halfway lead in the €4,000,000 Open de France ALSTOM at a cold and breezy Le Golf National on the outskirts of Versailles.
Khan, who found the Albatross Course in more receptive mood than the later starters, fired a four under par 67 on a brutal day in which only ten players managed to break 70. The 35 year old from Essex takes a one shot lead into the weekend on a five under par total of 137 with past champion Colin Montgomerie and Irish Ryder Cup player Paul McGinley snapping at his heels on 138.
Montgomerie, who expressed his bewilderment that more of the world’s leading players had not attended “one of the best venues and events on Tour”, added a one under par 70 to his opening 68 while McGinley compiled a second successive 69.
Meanwhile, no child likes have their toy snatched from them, but Khan’s decision to relieve his two year old daughter, Ruby, of an old, forgotten putter was totally vindicated.
Khan is currently languishing in 116th place on the Genworth Financial Statistics Putts per Green category – hardly winning form in anyone’s language. However, after depriving Ruby of her new play-thing, Khan’s fortunes have taken a turn for the better.
He shot a final round of 66 in Munich last week to tie his season’s best performance – tied seventh – and his average for that event was 26 putts per round compared to his customary 33 or 34.
He explained: “It was very frustrating and things reached a head when I played with Nick Dougherty in the US Open Qualifier at Walton Heath. I felt I matched him tee to green but he qualified and I didn’t then he went on to finish well up at Oakmont. Nothing seemed to be happening for me.
“However I decided to start using an old putter which had been up in my attic and the two year old had been playing with it. At the time I would say her stroke was better than mine! It looks a bit battered but I decided to shorten it and decrease the loft.
“I had been standing too far away from the ball but now I am getting more over the ball and it feels more solid, especially in the wind” added Khan, whose average this week is a more respectable 30 putts per round.
Montgomerie, who had not enjoyed the best of the conditions over the past two days, has looked more like his old self at Le Golf National, where he won in 2000.
He played a brilliant five iron within inches of the hole at the 12th then knocked a seven iron to 30 feet and holed the putt at the last t come home in 33.
Afterwards, the cheery Scot, said: “There is potential disaster her around every corner. We have a potential ‘Amen Corner’ on this course from the 13th onwards. This is one of our best venue, if not the best, on Tour. The prize fund is superb and the quality of everything around here is first class and let’s hope that in the future our top players will play.”
Warming to the theme, Montgomerie continued: “The tournament deserves better. It’s disappointing that no-one from the top 30 in the world is here but let’s hope that changes in the years to come. It’s got a good date and the event deserves a stronger field. The crowds are good and the whole facility is now a five-star resort and golf course.”
If Montgomerie was able to wax lyrically about his round, spare a thought for joint first round leader, Christian Nilsson of Sweden. He shared second place with McGinley playing the ninth, his final hole. However he run up the figure nine as Montgomerie made his three on the 18th for a six shot swing. Such is golf!
Meanwhile, on the subject of the Genworth Financial Statistics, McGinley was also using his analytical brain to good effect after a second successive 69. The Irishman was perplexed to find that although his Stroke Average finds him ranked 57th, he is a lowly 120th on The European Tour Order of Merit.
With a tie for 16th as his best finish in 2007, McGinley is clearly looking for bigger and better things this week over a course he rates as one of the most impressive on The European Tour.
He said: “It’s kind of weird, to be honest. My Stroke Average is right up there but I am 120th on the Order of Merit. It just goes to show that professional golf is not about making cuts, it’s about the big weeks. You’ve got to have these good, hot weeks.
“The guys who win the Order of Merit and make Ryder Cup Teams always seem to have four or five big weeks. I haven’t hit the ball close enough this year to make a lot of birdies and I’ve also made too many bogeys. Yesterday’s six birdies was the most I’ve made all year. Until then, my best had been four in a round.”
The 41 year old Dubliner is now in a strong position to contend for the €666,660 first prize and he said: “It’s really tough and just keeping the ball in play is of paramount importance. I did that today apart from one hole and I’ve putted well for two days. We’ll take it as it comes now.
“I’ve got myself in a nice position and if I play like I have the last couple of days I will be there or thereabouts.”
Denmark’s Thomas Björn threatened the lead for 17 holes, but a wayward drive cost him a double bogey seven and a level par 71. However, in a share of third place on three under par with a clutch of players, the Dane is also in a position to strike over the weekend.