Golf: Gilford bypasses celebrations after a perfect day in the sun: Leading man from Crewe keeps his peace as Lyle beats about the bushes

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DAVID GILFORD, who has the ability, even now, to make Greta Garbo sound garrulous, stealthily moved to the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Volvo Masters here yesterday. Sotto voce at Sotogrande, Gilford shot 68 and anything under par around Valderrama is a cause for celebration.

Not that the man from Crewe was shouting from the rooftops. You need a hearing aid to pick up Gilford's thoughts and we just about discerned that conditions were not half bad. The sun came out on the Costa del Sol, the previous day's rain had taken the sting out of the greens and a breeze that drifted through the cork trees was barely energetic enough to disturb the flags. 'A perfect day,' Gilford whispered.

Even so, the prize-money on offer here, pounds 750,000 plus a bonus pool of pounds 500,000, is not easily won. Gilford was one of only six players to break the par of 71. He leads by one stroke from Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke. Twelve months ago Sandy Lyle defeated Big Monty in a play-off here, a scenario that is unlikely to be repeated this week. Lyle is nine strokes behind Montgomerie after an opening round of 78. Lyle went to the turn in 35 and came back in a blaze of gory scoring. A six at the fifth was almost respectable compared to his eight at the 11th.

Lyle drove his ball so deeply into a bush that he had to abandon it. He went back to the tee and hit his next drive into almost the same spot. He managed to whack it out of the bush and finally reached the green in six strokes. Then he missed a putt from three feet. 'I played better than I scored,' Lyle said.

Lyle's victory here should have lit the blue touch paper for a memorable year. It rocketed him to second place in the Order of Merit, after which he managed the not inconsiderable feat of failing to qualify for the Ryder Cup team. This was achieved mainly on the basis of simply not playing. Gilford, the man in the envelope in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in 1991, failed to make the team this year.

He made a bright start, winning two tournaments, and is finishing strongly but in between we couldn't get a dickie bird out of him. 'The season is so long now it is difficult to keep your form going,' Gilford said. 'I played as well as I've ever done at the beginning but nobody plays well all year round, not even Nick Faldo.' Faldo, who shot 74, is six strokes behind Gilford. If Faldo, who leads the Order of Merit, is still in that position on Sunday evening he will collect a bonus of pounds 125,000.

Gilford's round contained four birdies, three of them on the back nine. He had two twos. At the 12th he hit a three- iron to 15 feet and at the 15th a two-iron to 25 feet and both putts were made. Gilford's idea of La Dolce Vita is to watch his lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea. He now has 20 purebred Hereford beef cattle and he's also got some bullocks. 'It's a hobby,' he said. He has won pounds 226,000 this year and his hobby provides him with additional pocket-money.

Next week he plays for England in the Heineken World Cup at Lake Nona in Florida, replacing Faldo, who has withdrawn, citing a potential attack of tendinitis. Gilford will partner Mark James, who yesterday had a bone to pick over an article that appeared in this newspaper during the Ryder Cup at The Belfry last month. The gist of the piece was how James had matured from the awkward performer who was fined pounds 1,500 for his behaviour at the 1979 Ryder Cup.

James said he was guilty of some things but categorically denied being late for the opening ceremony and, as for throwing food at a dinner, that was a case of mistaken identity. 'It was a player next to me,' he said. 'Someone who has gone on to become a major winner.' That narrows it down to Faldo or Lyle.

Anyhow, James said he did not appeal against the fine because he was told that if he did he risked losing the chance of playing in the Masters at Augusta. A number of people, James said, were gunning for him. 'I did some stupid things,' he said, 'but nobody would be foolish enough to be late for the opening ceremony.'

James did not have one of his better days yesterday, coming home in 42 in a round of 79. Montgomerie, meanwhile, had a strong finish, birdieing the 16th, with a 20-foot putt, and the 17th, where he chipped in. Big Monty, who is fifth in the Order of Merit, is confident of having a big week. 'I took last week off to prepare myself mentally,' he said. 'I like the challenge of the course and I feel very much at home. This is not the sort of course you want to play catch-up on.'

Clarke, 25, from Northern Ireland, had his debut victory in the Alfred Dunhill Open in Belgium a month ago and celebrated by buying a Porsche. His swing was a bit erratic yesterday but his putting compensated handsomely. 'I realise now that even if I'm struggling I can still scramble together a good score,' Clarke said.


VOLVO MASTERS First-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 68 D Gilford. 69 D Clarke, C Montgomerie. 70 J Parnevik (Swe), J-M Olazabal (Sp), E Romero (Arg). 71 P Way, G Brand Jnr, R Chapman, P Broadhurst, I Woosnam. 72 M Roe, R Goosen (SA), H Clark, B Langer (Ger), A Forsbrand (Swe), F Nobilo (NZ), D Feherty, A Oldcorn, V Singh (Fiji), T Johnstone (Zim). 73 M A Jimenez (Sp), J Van de Velde (Fr), J Haeggman (Swe), B Lane, M McNulty (Zim), E Els (SA), P Fowler (Aus), G Turner (NZ). 74 R Davis (Aus), N Faldo, J Coceres (Arg), S Torrance. 75 J Spence, J Payne, R Karlsson (Swe), P Baker, C Rocca (It). 76 J Rivero (Sp), C Mason, P McGinley, I Palmer (SA), P Mitchell, G Orr. 77 P-U Johansson (Swe), D W Basson (SA), D Smyth, S Richardson, R Rafferty, W Westner (SA). 78 S Lyle. 79 M James. 80 S Ames (Tri). 82 B Marchbank.