Storm and Green lead French Open, Watson nine back in European debut

bubba watson
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Bubba Watson three-putted his final hole for a double bogey on Thursday at the French Open.
By
PA Sport and Associated Press

Series: European Tour

Graeme Storm of England shot a bogey-free 6-under 65 to share the lead with Richard Green of Australia after the first round of the European Tour’s Alstom French Open on Thursday.

Green looked set to take the sole lead but bogeyed the par-4 17th, after having made five birdies in six holes from the ninth. Storm had four birdies on the back nine -- including on the 17th -- to join Green one shot ahead of George Coetzee of South Africa, James Morrison of England and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark.

“It’s nice to see my name on the leaderboard, especially coming out on 18,” said Storm, who won the French Open in 2007. “You kind of remember that you’ve won it before and you’ve been in this position before.”

Italian teenager Matteo Manassero shot a 68 to share sixth place with 10 other players, after recovering from a double bogey on the second hole by making an eagle on the next.

The Albatross Course at Le Golf National -- where the 2018 Ryder Cup will be played -- has a reputation for being treacherous because of its many water hazards, but Green said he enjoyed the challenge.

“It’s one of those courses that I like to play,” the 2004 French Open runner-up said. “It’s one of those golf courses that has a lot of difficult holes and you’ve really got to focus very hard and position the ball well. I tend to mentally like difficult golf holes. I focus a little bit harder for that reason.”

In the afternoon, Coetzee had three birdies in a row to climb atop the leaderboard, one stroke ahead of Storm and Green. But the South African bogeyed the 15th and 17th to slip back to third.

Olesen finished strong with birdies on his last two holes to go level with Coetzee.

Defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and Martin Kaymer of Germany stayed in contention by carding even-par 71s.

“I didn’t make enough birdies today,” Kaymer said. “But level par is an OK score and I didn’t kick myself out of the tournament.”

The former top-ranked Kaymer struggled all day, combining three bogeys with three birdies.

“On the front nine, I missed a lot of fairways and I couldn’t put myself in good birdie chances,” Kaymer said. “That was the problem because the first five, six holes, they are pretty easy on the golf course. They are the scoring holes usually.”

American lefty Bubba Watson (74), 2008 winner Pablo Larrazabal of Spain (74), and last year’s runner-up Francesco Molinari of Italy (75) will have to improve on Friday to make the cut. Watson, in the first regular European Tour start of his career, came to the last 1 over, but drove into a bunker and after laying up short of the lake three-putted for a double-bogey 6 to close out his 74.

Four players were disqualified for breaching a rule after finding water on the last hole.

Rikard Karlberg of Sweden, Damien McGrane of Ireland, James Ruebotham of England and Jaco Van Zyl of South Africa all dropped their balls from the wrong place, as only players whose ball went beyond a certain point were allowed to use the drop zone.

“The local rules are very clear,” European Tour Senior Referee Andy McFee said while showing to reporters a sheet with the rules on it. “It says at the 18th hole, the drop zone can only be used if the last point of entry is beyond the green stake. It stands out in big, colored letters.”

“Players have to read and understand the local rules,” McFee added. “Players spend hours and hours on the practice round trying to save a shot. Well, five minutes in the rule book can have exactly the same effect.”

Storm is in the hunt for a second French Open victory. His win in 2007 -- from five behind with a round to go -- is his only one in more than 250 European Tour starts.

"There's always added pressure when you come back," said the former British Amateur champion, who was a Walker Cup teammate of world No. 1 Luke Donald and Paul Casey in 1999. "People say you've won and you like the course. Don't get me wrong -- it is fantastic to know you've done it -- but you still have to put the work in."

Armed with a new driver and putter, Storm, currently ranked 258 places below Donald, did not drop a stroke. He won the qualifier at Sunningdale three weeks ago after a brilliant 62.