Welshman Bradley Dredge made a flying start to his defence of the Omega European Masters when he soared into the lead by holing his second shot on the par four sixth at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club to open an early two stroke advantage on the field.
Dredge, who won 12 months ago by an impressive eight strokes, is bidding to become the first player to successfully defend the title since Seve Ballesteros in 1977-78. An opening five under par 66 gave him the clubhouse lead and left him two strokes clear of the in-form Mikko Ilonen of Finland, a two-time winner this season, Australian Marcus Fraser and Argentina's Eduardo Romero, who celebrated his 20th consecutive appearance in the event with an eagle and two birdies in his last five holes as dusk fell to join them on three under par.
England’s Oliver Wilson was three under par with four holes to play when play was suspended due to darkness following the delayed start to the opening round.
Two hours were lost first thing in the morning due to frost but once underway, Dredge made steady progress with two birdies in his first nine holes but his eagle on the sixth, his 15th, where he spun his wedge shot from 109 metres into the hole, catapulted him into the lead. A birdie on the next further strengthened his position at the top.
Dredge had previously said the course seemed to like him as much as he liked it and, sure enough, he continued his strong affinity with the spectacular Alpine venue, hosting the event for the 61st time this week.
“You always want to have a decent tournament as defending champion but it is not often you win back to back,” said Dredge after his opening 66. “But coming back to a course you have won on, you seem to know the course. Like Jean-Francois Remesy at the French Open, he seems to know that course and hopefully this is the same for me.”
Dredge is also first out of the blocks in the year-long Ryder Cup race which gets underway this week.
“There is a long way to go,” he said with a smile. “And I think it shows by the strength of the field this year that it is on people’s minds and it is important to get early points on the board.”
Fraser bogeyed the last to fall two strokes off the pace but on a cold, blustery day in the Swiss Alps, the 29 year old was pleased with the day’s work. Fraser burst onto the professional scene in 2003 when he won twice on the Challenge Tour before sealing his place on The European Tour with a third win in the space of two months in the Russian Open Golf Championship. But victory has eluded him since then and four years on, he is hungry for success.
“I just want to win,” he said. “It has been four years since I won a golf tournament. My first year as a pro I came straight out and won four golf tournaments and I haven’t won since. I am as hungry as ever and will work as hard as I can to get things happening again.”
Ilonen is enjoying a glorious season, following his maiden European Tour victory in the Enjoy Jakarta Astro Indonesia Open in February with a second triumph in the Scandinavian Masters last month. But things have not sun entirely smoothly this week as his luggage is yet to find its way to Crans Montana.
That prompted a small shopping trip to find some clothes to wear before he could concentrate on his opening round. Five birdies and two dropped shots led to a round of 68.
Paul Casey chipped in on the 17th on his way to an opening 71, holing his final putt in virtual darkness.
The first round will resume at 7.45am for those players still to complete their opening rounds. The second round will now start at 8.10am with all morning tee times put back 30 minutes from the published draw.
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