Thursday, 02 June 2011
Keith Horne  (Getty Images)
Keith Horne (Getty Images)

Ryder Cup stars Graeme McDowell and Peter Hanson found The Celtic Manor Resort a happy hunting ground again, but it was Keith Horne in the lead after day one of the Saab Wales Open.

Horne, 289th in the Official World Golf Ranking, did not turn professional until he was 25 and it was only last year that the Durban golfer, 40 next week, kept his European Tour card.

Coming home in a five under 30 gave him a seven under 64 and put him top of the leaderboard.

“We'll see if it keeps going for the next couple of days,” he said. “I did some work with Hennie Otto on the range and I've been doing some work with my coach, but just a couple of key thoughts that I changed on to the golf course, and they clicked and I just stuck to them for the whole round.

“I was a little bit too nervous to stray from them, and I think that helped a lot out there, because I couldn't get ahead of myself, the way I've been playing lately.  So I just stuck to my key thoughts all the way around and got pretty comfortable.”

Paired together for the opening round at the scene of Europe’s triumph last October, Swede Hanson fired a six under par 65 to tuck in just behind South African Horne.

Defending champion McDowell, meanwhile, improved five shots on his start last year with a 67 that included a 30 foot eagle putt on the 15th – but only a par on the hole with which he is most associated.

"It's a tough second shot past my statue there," he joked about the 499 yard 16th, scene of the most important birdie he has ever made and probably will ever make.

"I hit it to about 20 feet and thought I made it, but I guess I've used all my magic up on that green."

There was enough good stuff, though, to boost his belief that he will not need a 64-63 finish this time to head into his US Open Championship title defence on the back of another win.

"It's all simmering nicely. I need to get into the mix this weekend and get the old juices flowing again."

As it was last year, this is McDowell's final tune-up event for the second Major of the season.

"I've definitely got three or four days of chilling out planned next week - maybe go and wear out a groove in my mum's couch in Portrush.

"I'm going to fly to Orlando Thursday and Pete (coach Pete Cowen) is coming in Friday."

Hanson also has a base at Lake Nona - "I can probably hit a seven iron to his house," he said - and like McDowell a year ago at Pebble Beach is relieved just to be playing in Washington in a fortnight.

The world's top 50 on May 23 qualified and he was 50th by 0.01 ranking points over Australian Aaron Baddeley. McDowell made it the same way by 0.05 points in 2010.

Hanson had eight birdies to Horne's seven, but there were also bogeys at the 13th and eighth on his card.

Ross Fisher and Miguel Angel Jiménez are the other two members of last year's European side taking part.

Fisher, who on Sunday week needs to be back in the world's top 50 from his current 52nd if he is to play in the US Open had a level par 71, but Jiménez managed only a 73.

The Spaniard was paired with Captain Colin Montgomerie, but four days after his first top-ten finish for almost three years - seventh in the BMW PGA Championship - the 47 year old Scot was twice in the water over the closing stretch and signed for a 77.

England's Steve Webster and Paul Broadhurst and Spain's Alvaro Velasco came in late with 66s to share third place, leaving McDowell in a tie for sixth.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1NOREN, AlexanderSWE18-9
T2BOURDY, GrégoryFRA18-7
T2HANSEN, AndersDEN18-7
T4GONZALEZ, RicardoARG18-6
T4EDFORS, JohanSWE18-6
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