Van de Velde surprises even himself with his stellar start to French Open

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Can Jean Van de Velde put together three more solid rounds this week? "You never know," he said.
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PA Sport

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Just when people were starting to wonder whatever happened to Jean Van de Velde, the man himself has popped up in Paris on Thursday with a sparkling round.

Eleven years on from the week -- indeed the hole -- that wrote him into golf history, the 44-year-old began the Alstom French Open, just his second European Tour event of the year, with a 5-under-par 66 to share second place, three behind Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen.

Now, if he now goes on to win the title on Sunday, Van de Velde, no longer a European Tour card holder, will be playing in the British Open at St. Andrews in two weeks rather than commentating on it. But, as the world No. 1,175 confesses, that is a big "if."

With Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter both being declared fit to play following their leg problems -- they shot 70 and 72, respectively -- Van de Velde will have to beat five of the world's top 11.

The fifth of those is defending champion Martin Kaymer of Grmany, and he also began with a 66. But in the last group of the day, former Dubai Desert Classic winner Derksen charged through the back nine in a 5-under 30 and picked up further shots on the first, sixth and long closing ninth.

"I have no expectations whatsoever," said Van de Velde, who needed a sponsor's invitation to be part of the field. "Even now. Especially now. But we will see -- you never know with a Frenchman."

He proved that at Carnoustie, of course. Three ahead standing on the final tee, Van de Velde crashed to the most famous triple bogey ever and then lost the playoff to Paul Lawrie.

This event has also given him his heartache. He tied with compatriot Jean-Francois Remesy five years ago after once more finding water on the last again and then did it again when they went into sudden death.

"There are two tournaments I would like to play all my life if I could, the French Open and the British Open,” he said. “I have a few scars and and some have not healed, but those are the two that have a special place."

Westwood and Poulter both dropped two late shots, but were relieved to be playing after they were forced to sit out the eve-of-tournament pro-am. There was a fear that Westwood, runner-up after a playoff last year, was suffering a blood clot, but a hospital visit said the swelling had more to do with the heat.

"It's a bit sore and stiff and I think I have an injury in there somewhere," he said. "I think it wants rest and I have a couple of weeks after the Open when I can put my feet up."

Poulter had suffered a reaction to an insect bite on his shin and was given antibiotics. After three-putting the 16th and 18th, he commented: "I got round all right, but it's been itching the whole day and driving me crazy."

World No. 7 Luke Donald -- second, first and third in his last three tournaments in Europe -- was 2 over starting for home, but finished with a 1-under 70, while playing partner and 10th-ranked Rory McIlroy also covered the outward half in 33 for a 68.

European Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie could do no better than 73, however. And Jose Maria Olazabal, back in action for the first time since October because of his continuing battle with rheumatism, crashed to an 82 after taking -- like Ryder Cup hopeful Simon Dyson in his 78 -- a quintuple-bogey 9 on the last.