JAMIE SPENCE gave his prospects of a place in the European Ryder Cup side a fillip yesterday with a five-under-par 67 in the first round of the Rome Masters. The man who really mastered the Castelgandolfo course, however, was Jean van de Velde, of France, who equalled the course record with a 66.
Spence, nevertheless, is handily placed to add considerably to the 185,837 Cup points he has already accumulated. Around 300,000 will be needed for a top nine finish at the end of the qualifying tournament. 'Unfortunately,' he said, 'no one can really tell what the magic figure is. It will certainly entail winning a lot of cash.'
Spence, winner of the European Masters last season, had bogeys at the 10th and 12th after starting his round on the back nine, then atoned with birdies at the 14th and 17th before charging home in 31, the best of the day.
Van de Velde, by contrast, equalled Barry Lane's course record of 66 without a blemish on his card. Six under par with six to play, he nevertheless failed to register the birdie he needed to set a new record.
Van de Velde and Spence were chased by a quartet on 68 - Frank Nobilo, Costantina Rocca, Adam Hunter and Jay Townsend. However, the comeback of Peter Oosterhuis after 19 years in America ended indifferently with a four-over-par 76 in the difficult afternoon conditions.
A regular participant in the Ryder Cup in the days before Britain summoned Continental reinforcements, Oosterhuis was four over par after only four holes but four birdies in the middle of his round effected a partial recovery and a semblance of respectability.
ROME MASTERS (Castelgandolfo) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 66 J van de VeLde (Fr); 67 J Spence; 68 F Nobilo (NZ), A Hunter, C Rocca (It), J Townsend (US); 69 A Lebouc (Fr), J Robson, M Besanceney (Fr), B Lane, S Grappasonni (It); 70 J Sewell, J Payne, S Struver (Ger), J Robinson, A Binaghi (It), G Cali (It); 71 P Walton, L Jones, W Riley (Aus), D Williams, P Fowler (Aus), D Clarke, H P Thuel (Ger), G J Brand, S McAllister, D Hospital (Sp), H Clark, P Baker.
*denotes amateurReuse content