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Italian teenager Matteo Manassero shrugged off a lean spell to fire a bogey-free 66 yesterday in the first round of the French Open at Le Golf National outside Versailles.
That left him in a three-way tie for second just one stroke behind surprise first-round leader Christian Nilsson of Sweden. Level with Manassero on 66 were England’s Gary Boyd and Thai veteran Thongchai Jaidee. A stroke further back came David Lynn of England, Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Federico Colombo of Italy.
Manassero, the 19-year-old prodigy from Verona, has been tipped to go far since he won the Silver Medal as top amateur in the 2009 Turnberry British Open, and tour wins quickly followed in the 2010 Castello Masters and the Malaysian Open in April 2011.
But since then he has failed to add to his tournament win haul and has struggled for scores in his last four tournaments. But perfect early playing conditions on the Albatross course at Le Golf National, the host venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup, were to his liking and he made an early statement with his five-under round.
“Of late, I’ve been quiet,” he said. “I started the year really well with five top-10s and then the last few events I was playing well but still couldn’t score. But this 66 gives me confidence for doing a good week here.”
First round leader Nilsson was another who has struggled with eight missed cuts in 14 starts this year, leaving him in 156th place in the Race to Dubai European Tour money list. But he believes that a good dose of patience and dedicated practice are starting to pay dividends.
World No 2 Lee Westwood, the top-ranking player in the field, bounced back from being four-over through six holes to come in with a 70.
South Africans Tjaart van der Walt (68), Jaco van Zyl (69), George Coetzee (70) and Thomas Aiken (70) were all under par.
Defending champion Frenchman Thomas Levet, who broke his leg while jumping into the greenside lake at the 18th hole last year to celebrate his win, struggled to a 72, coming in among the late starters who had to finish in heavy rain.
l In the Greenbrier Classic on the PGA Tour, 49-year-old Vijay Singh took the early lead yesterday with a sensational seven-under-par 63. Tiger Woods, chasing his fourth win in eight starts, finished off a rollercoaster first round with a 1-over 71. At the par-5 17th, he hit a ball in the water en route to a double- bogey seven.