Upstart Colsaerts four clear after new course record at Volvo Champions

Nicolas Colsaerts
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Nicolas Colsaerts leads by four after Day 1 at Fancourt, and only seven other times in European Tour history has someone been farther in front after 18 holes.
PA Sport

Series: European Tour

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012 | 2:04 p.m.

GEORGE, South Africa -- Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts leads the Volvo Golf Champions by four strokes after surging clear of the field with a course-record 64 on Thursday at Fancourt.

Padraig Harrington was three behind until he finished with a double-bogey 7 that left England's Tom Lewis and South Africans Thomas Aiken and Branden Grace tied for second.

Reigning British Open champion Darren Clarke managed only a 74, but that was one better than Masters champion Charl Schwartzel in the tournament whose 35-man field includes only players who won in the last year on the European Tour or those with 10 or more career victories.

Even allowing for the small field, Colsaerts' lead after Day 1 was impressive, and there have only ever been seven events in European Tour history where someone has been farther in front after 18 holes.

"Exceptional, but so is he," said Colin Montgomerie of Colsaerts' 9-under-par round. "He is fantastic -- potentially as good as it gets."

Despite such praise, Colsaerts has only tasted victory once in nearly 200 European Tour starts, and that will encourage the 34 players left trailing in his wake.

However, Clarke already has 10 strokes to make up -- he was wearing contact lenses for the first time, but rustiness was his problem.

Until he reached the 549-yard 18th hole, Harrington was the one doing his best at trying to reel Colsaerts in, but a bad drive and three putts led to a double bogey and a 69.

"Such is life," said the Dubliner, 89th in the world and trying to get back into the top 64 in time for next month's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. "It was a very comfortable 6 under for 17 holes, but it's a nasty tee shot and that was a mental error."

Instead, Lewis, Aiken and Grace, who qualified by winning the Joburg Open on Sunday, share second spot.

Montgomerie played with Lewis and praised his performance.

The 21-year-old led the Open last summer -- his first-day 65 was the lowest ever round by an amateur in the event -- and then won the Portugal Masters in only his third start as a professional. What particularly impressed Montgomerie was the way Lewis came back from a 7 on the long 16th with back-to-back birdies.

"He has every opportunity to make you-know-what come September," said Montgomerie in reference to the Ryder Cup.

No European has ever gone from Walker Cup to Ryder Cup in a year -- Rickie Fowler has done it for the Americans -- and Lewis is not dismissing the possibility.

"If I play well, there's no reason why not," he said.

The day belonged to Colsaerts, though, and perhaps it was no surprise given the sponsors. His only victory came in the Volvo China Open last April and a month later he was a semifinalist in the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Spain.

The biggest hitter in Europe two seasons ago, he was looking forward to taking on Royal St. George’s last July after finishing third in the Scottish Open the week before, but then came his infamous scooter accident. After deciding a scooter would be the best way to get about for the week in Kent, he tried to jump a curb because of the traffic and came unstuck.

"I tried to hit a few balls, but felt a bit like a clown -- I was hitting 160-yard drives," said the man used to blasting it twice as far.

Colsaerts was out for two months and has not had a top-eight finish since, but nine birdies in the last 11 holes reminded everybody what he is capable of. He made 2s on all four short holes and also birdied four of the five par 5s.

A pair of 62s in Indonesia and Holland remain his lowest scores on the European Tour, but he said: "This is probably the best round I've ever had -- it's quite a serious test of golf."