Friday 19 January 2018

'Albatros' is perfect prep for assault on Muirfield – Donald

John Daly, wearing stars and stripes trousers to commemorate American Independence Day, chips up to the 17th green in the first round of the Greenbrier Classic
John Daly, wearing stars and stripes trousers to commemorate American Independence Day, chips up to the 17th green in the first round of the Greenbrier Classic

James Corrigan

Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald survived an opening-day test at the French Open that one of the country's golfing heroes described as "dangerous".

Thomas Levet is even worried that a player's British Open hopes may be lost in patches of waist-high rough on the 'Albatros' course at Le Golf National this week.

Levet, runner-up to Ernie Els the last time the British Open was played at Muirfield in 2002, had painful experience from which to quote.

"To me it is dangerous," Levet said after signing for a four-over-par 75. "Collectively in our group we lost eight balls, and that cannot be right.

"I broke a finger trying to play out of it a few years ago and it has never healed properly – I could see something similar happening this year."

Levet also broke an ankle here at Le Golf National two years ago. But that was in the act of celebration when he threw himself into the lake on the 18th after holing the winning putt.

Levet is a proud Frenchman and played a part in securing the 2018 Ryder Cup for this stunning layout.

But then, Jean van de Velde's role in the successful bid was huge and the tournament director was clearly not happy with his long-time associate for the negative publicity.

"Why don't you ask the other 155 players what they think?" Van de Velde said. "I know everyone's entitled to an opinion but sometimes our disappointment after a bad round leads us to an answer that's not right. Everything I'm hearing is overwhelmingly positive."

Donald was another to come to the course's defence. "It's a good set-up, tough but good," he said. "The fairways are tight but there is about eight to 10 yards of semi-rough.

"But if you're beyond that you are hacking out and if you're beyond that you've lost your ball. I'm here to prepare for Muirfield and I don't want a course where you can shoot 24-under."


Donald was content with a level-par 71, which left him five behind leader Anders Hansen, who shot a superb 66.

McDowell is on an extraordinary run, with two wins and four missed cuts, including last week's Irish Open, from his last six appearances. Yesterday's 69, which left him in a share of 12th place with, among others, fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey, was far more solid.

Whatever about Levet's contentious verdict on the jungle rough, all agreed that a potent mixture of hard putting surfaces and tucked pins made the Albatros course play a lot tougher than one might usually expect in idyllic weather conditions.

Yet when the going gets tough, few are better equipped than 2010 US Open champion McDowell and, at his best, four-time European Tour winner Hoey to rise to the challenge.

Both hit 11 of 14 fairways yesterday, Portrush native McDowell going on to find 15 greens in regulation in a round that featured three birdies and one bogey at 11, where he left a chip in greenside rough.

Another Irishman, Damien McGrane, lay 24th alongside rookie pro Alan Dunbar from Portrush in a large group on one-under-par after a 70. This was a decent effort by the Kells man, considering he lost his second shot in the long grass at 10, leading to a double-bogey six.

"The conditions were straightforward but if you were offline it was penal. So you had to make the best of each situation and try and recover with a good putt," added McGrane, who sank two from 12 feet to save par.

Gareth Shaw (27), who earned a ticket to Paris with last week's tie for fifth in Carton, opened his seventh tournament on the trot with a fantastic hat-trick of birdies but dropped three shots on the daunting final two holes, including a double-bogey six at 17.

The Lurgan native was just inside the projected cut mark after signing for a 72. One better was Gareth Maybin with an even-par 71.

Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and fellow Dub Peter Lawrie both shot 74, while Simon Thornton had three double-bogeys in his 75.

Meanwhile, a 68 left Dubliner Niall Kearney tied 18th, five off the pace set by Victor Riu of France with his course record 63 in the Bad Griesback Challenge in Germany.

Former Shamrock Rovers winger Stephen Grant opened this Challenge Tour event with a two-under-par 70, while Peter O'Keeffe shot 72.

Tommy 'Two-Gloves' Gainey and fellow American Johnson Wagner shared the early clubhouse lead on eight-under at The Greenbrier Classic after sensational bogey-free 62s at The Old White TPC in West Virginia.

In stark contrast, Phil Mickelson slumped to a 74, including a nightmare triple-bogey eight at 17, in his first competitive round since last month's US Open. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

French Open,

Sky Sports 1, 9.30 & 2.30

The Greenbrier Classic,

Sky Sports 3, 8.0

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