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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Rafa Cabrera-Bello  (Getty Images)
Rafa Cabrera-Bello (Getty Images)

Former champion Danny Willett and playing partner Rafa Cabrera-Bello set the pace on the opening day of the BMW International Open at Golf Club Gut Lärchenhof.

The duo shot eight under rounds of 64 to hold a two-stroke lead over a tightly-bunched chasing pack as the majority of the field enjoyed near-perfect conditions in Köln.

Willett was the champion at this same venue two years ago, when he had to battle vastly different conditions to claim the only win of his career so far on The European Tour.

The 26-year-old arrived back on memorable ground in good form, after he finished in a tie for third at the Irish Open last week, but under a slight injury cloud after a neck problem forced him to miss the pro-am.

If the Englishman did feel any discomfort it did not show, perhaps helped by playing partner Cabrera-Bello, who produced a flawless round himself to deservedly share the overnight lead.

The Spaniard was quickest out of the blocks as he birdied four of the opening seven holes and made most of his ground on the short holes – picking up strokes on three of the four par threes.

Willett's putting was the feature of his day as he stormed home with five birdies after the turn. He fittingly finished his round with a perfectly-weighted 20 foot putt to draw level with Cabrera-Bello.

A group of seven players were the next best challengers on six under.

Alvaro Quiros was significant amongst those, the Spaniard had led for a brief time when he strung together a hat-trick of birdies only to then card his only bogey of the round after finding the greenside rough on the par three 16th.

Gary Stal, Michael Hoey, Graeme Storm, Andy Sullivan, Emiliano Grillo and Anders Hansen were the others two shots off the pace.

Denmark's Hansen lost a play-off at this tournament six years ago when a then 23-year-old Martin Kaymer became the first German to win his national title.

In the ensuing years Kaymer has become a household name and returned home today – he grew up 30 kilometres away from the Gut Lärchenhof GC - for the first time since he won his second major at the US Open a fortnight ago.

While he did not quite provide the spectacle he might have wanted to for the sizeable galleries that turned out for his early-morning tee time, Kaymer ensured he is still firmly in the hunt for the weekend after carding an opening-round 71.

Starting at the 10th, birdies in three holes were quickly undone by a double bogey at the short 16th and another dropped shot at the 18th took him to the turn in one over.

Three successive birdies immediately got Kaymer back to two under but having hit his second into a greenside bunker at the 577 yard seventh he failed to get out of the trap from an awkward lie and bogeyed to finish one under.

Sweden's Robert Karlsson, who started on the back nine, looked set for a low score after reaching the turn on five under but eight pars - interrupted by a dropped shot at the eighth - meant he finished the day four shots off the lead.

Countryman Henrik Stenson was alongside him after he battled pollen that caused him, and most obviously playing partner Victor Dubuisson, to be overcome by sneezing spells.

Dubuisson was hardest hit on the 12th hole after he lost his ball in the long grass down the left of the fairway.

The Frenchman was so overcome that when he took the ball away for relief near the ninth tee his caddy had to ask Stenson and Bernd Wiesberger to putt out as he recovered. Dubuisson finished his round on one under.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1ZANOTTI, FabrizioPAR18-19
T2HAVRET, GrégoryFRA18-19
T2CABRERA-BELLO, RafaESP18-19
T2STENSON, HenrikSWE18-19
T5JAIDEE, ThongchaiTHA18-18
T5DYSON, SimonENG18-18

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