Golf: Struver steers clear of rocks: Olazabal and Brand Jnr tame the treacherous course that Jack Nicklaus built

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The Independent Online
HALCYON days. Had the Spanish Armada moved in on Plymouth yesterday it would have been spotted easily. No need for a crow's nest or an eyeglass and Drake could have got in another end on the bowling green on the Hoe. Instead of men of war some halcyon names emerged through the heat haze here . . . Jacklin, Nicklaus, Oosterhuis.

It was not quite all our yesterdays. The Nicklaus out on the course was Gary, son of Jack. Gary is still trying to get to grips with his father's fiendish design here. However, with Devon and Cornwall looking like the Riviera rather than a stretch of land on which the hopes of mariners and golfers are wrecked, the young Nicklaus shot 75 in the first round of the Benson and Hedges International. No great shakes but an improvement on his scores here in previous years. Oosty, attempting a comeback on the European Tour, had a 77 and Jacklin, killing time before his 50th birthday next year, at which point he will be eligible for senior service, a 75.

Despite the near perfect conditions, St Mellion is big enough and tough enough to defend itself and less than a sixth of the field bettered par. A Scotsman, Gordon Brand Jnr, a Spaniard, Jose-Maria Olazabal, and a German, Sven Struver, reached the extraordinary heights, extraordinary for St Mellion, of five under par. As for Struver, they should present him with a gold doubloon. He was the only man, out of 156, not to have a bogey. 'If you finish here on par or better you've done really well,' Brand Jnr said. 'Every shot can be a disaster.'

By that token Nick Faldo did well, scoring 70, especially after his opening shot flirted with disaster. Faldo, who started at the 10th, drove into an unplayable lie, next to a tree. After taking a penalty drop he hit a seven-iron to 20 feet and made the putt to save par. Scrambling. That was his buzz word. 'You don't have to be far off line to be in trouble,' Faldo said.

He proved the point at the third, which has a landing area small enough to worry a hawk. On the right the fairway falls into oblivion and Faldo's ball, struck with a two-iron for safety, kicked right. He hit a provisional but discovered his original deep down in the valley. He lashed at it with a nine-iron, found a greenside bunker, came out to 15 feet and sank the putt for a four which, he said, could easily have been a six.

One of Faldo's playing partners was the Italian Costantino Rocca, who recently won his first event on Tour after a string of top-10 finishes. At 36 he is something of an ageing Rocca but if he keeps this up he is going to make the Ryder Cup team. He is 11th in the table and fifth in the Order of Merit, two places above Faldo. Yesterday Rocca matched Faldo's 70 and the world No 1, who had never played with him before, was impressed. 'Fade or draw, he's always trying to do something,' Faldo said. 'There are not many players who intentionally manoeuvre the ball.'

Brand Jnr, who played in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1989, is 18th in the pecking order. Last week in Cannes he was disqualified after failing to sign his card. 'I forgot,' he said. 'I'm a brainless idiot.' The fact that he shot 78 helped to bring on the amnesia. His 67 here, fashioned with a series of medium to long putts, contained a solitary bogey, at the 13th.

Olazabal, who rose at 5.45am to meet an early tee time, said that he had not putted better all season. Struver, who said he has benefited from spending a month with Bernhard Langer, did not owe his score to a purple patch with the putter. He pitched in from 50 feet for a two at the 14th and from 30 feet for a three at the 18th. At the second he came out of a bunker to two feet for another birdie and at the seventh hit a wedge to within the length of a cigarette butt of the hole. 'People told me it would be cold, windy and wet,' Struver said. 'But everything's perfect. Not like the Mickey Mouse courses we have in Germany.' The suspicion is that he's about to meet Captain Hook.

BENSON AND HEDGES INTERNATIONAL OPEN (St Mellion) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 67 G Brand Jnr, J-M Olazabal (Sp), S Struver (Ger). 68 V Singh (Fiji), M James. 69 B Lane, D Gilford, P Broadhurst, G J Brand, J Haeggman (Swe). 70 R Chapman, J Sewell, D A Russell, N Faldo, C Rocca (It), C Montgomerie, M Mouland, P Affleck. 71 S Torrance, J Payne, R Davis (Aus), M Pinero (Sp), C O'Connor Jnr, R Claydon, A Oldcorn. 72 M Poxon, P Lawrie, P McGinley, E O'Connell, G Evans, P Curry, M Mackenzie, B Gallacher, M Besanceney (Fr), J Townsend (US). 73 A Bossert (Swit), J Robson, M Farry (Fr), C Cassells, R Karlsson (Swe), F Nobilo (NZ), A Forsbrand (Swe), M Roe, P Walton, V Fernandez (Arg), A Murray, O Karlsson (Swe). 74 C Mason, O Sellberg (Swe), A Coltart, B Malley (US), A Sorensen (Den), G Turner (NZ), A Gillner (Swe), R Willison, P Senior (Aus), S Lyle, D W Basson (SA), *G Wolstenholme, M Gates, T Levet (Fr), R Boxall, M McLean, S Luna (Sp), M A Jimenez (Sp), H Clark, G Levenson (SA), I Garbutt, M McNulty (Zim), P Mayo, I Palmer (SA), P Fowler (Aus), G Orr, T Johnstone (Zim), H-P Thuel (Ger), D Curry, P Eales, P Hall.

* denotes amateur

(Photograph omitted)

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