Nilsson leads Alstom French Open by one, Westwood trails by five shots

Christian Nilsson at the Alstom French Open
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The big tees towering over Le Golf National didn't overshadow Christian Nilsson as he took the first-round lead at the Alstom French Open.
PA Sport

Series: European Tour

Published: Thursday, July 05, 2012 | 2:59 p.m.

PARIS -- Sweden's Christian Nilsson, without a single top-35 finish all season, was the surprise leader of the Alstom French Open after the first round at Le Golf National on Thursday.

But while Nilsson shot a 6-under-par 65, there was more misery for former world No. 3 Paul Casey -- a 9-over 80 that left him close to last place.

Casey has made only one halfway cut since dislocating his shoulder snowboarding in Colorado on Christmas Eve, but this was the first time he had failed to break 80 in his comeback. Seven of his dropped shots came in the last six holes -- and that after a double-bogey 7 on the third.

On the course that will host the 2018 Ryder Cup, the 33-year-old Nilsson, 263rd in the world, leads by one over  England's Gary Boyd, Italian teenager Matteo Manassero and Wales Open winner Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand.

"It's been a struggle for me so far this year," said Nilsson. "My long game was pretty bad, but it's improved and this is good for my confidence."

He followed four birdies in six holes with a bogey 6 at the 596-yard ninth, then collected more birdies on the 10th, 14th and 15th.

It is only just over a month ago that Boyd began the Wales Open with an 88 that included two 10s, but he flew to America to see his coach straight afterward and has put the pieces back together.

"That was a bit of a disaster, but I've had a lot of positive signs the last three weeks," said the 25-year-old, twice a runner-up since stepping up from the Challenge Tour two years ago. "I'm working on the right things I feel and am getting comfortable again. My game wasn't where it needed to be and it was time to take a time-out."

Third-ranked Lee Westwood recovered from 4 over after six holes and from playing one shot while standing in a lake to match reigning British Open champion Darren Clarke's 70.

That was one better than Justin Rose and two better than both Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, while Irish Open champion Jamie Donaldson handed in a birdie-free 76.

"I didn't do much wrong to be 4 over, but there's not a lot of panic in me any more -- I haven't got much time for that," said Westwood, in his last tournament before the Open. "It was not going my way, but you just have to get it out of your mind."

His water adventure came on the ninth, his final hole. The ball stopped on the edge, but to play his second he rolled up his trouser legs and waded in with his shoes and socks on. The reason for not going barefoot, he said, was that he remembered Thomas Levet jumping in the lake and breaking his leg after winning last year.

"I didn't know what was in there," said Westwood. "I've got plenty of shoes with me."

Clarke, who made his first cut of the year at Royal Portrush last Friday, mixed five birdies -- two of them in the dangerous last three holes -- with two bogey 6s and a double-bogey 6 on the 399-yard 15th.

Rose fell back after reaching 3 under early on, while 46-year-old former Ryder Cup player Paul Broadhurst, winner in 1995, crashed to an 82 two days after winning a qualifying event that got him into the Open.