Bickerton discovers sinking feeling to take lead

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John Bickerton revealed a flash of inspiration on the putting green contributed to him holding the lead after the first round of the French Open here yesterday.

The Droitwich golfer, who won his maiden European Tour title last October, fell one short of the course record at Le Golf National but his eight-under-par 63 was good enough to give him a two-stroke lead over last year's US Open champion Michael Campbell.

And it was all down to finding a "feeling" in practice yesterday.

"I just holed a lot of putts and that was the difference," the 36-year-old said. "The last few weeks I have been struggling and when that happens the rest of your game tends to suffer as well. I did some hard work yesterday on the putting green and it paid off. When I played well in Spain I had a feeling and that clicked yesterday."

Starting on the back nine, Bickerton had three birdies in a row from the 11th with his longest putt being 15 feet to turn in 32. At the 563-yard third he was in trouble off the tee and had to chip out but he then holed a long birdie putt after hitting a five iron to 30 feet.

He picked up more shots at his next two holes, one from 25 feet and another from 12, before he closed with back-to-back birdies - signing off in style at the last with a 20-footer. For Campbell it was a change of putter which did the trick for him. Among the New Zealander's seven birdies - he bogeyed his opening hole - were two putts of 25 feet, one of 15 feet, and the remainder all coming from inside 10 feet.

"I changed putters for the first time in probably two years. The putter I used for the US Open and the World Match Play (which he also won last year) is being rested," said Campbell.

"The one thing that has really bothered me the last couple of months has been my putting and today I finally saw something. I hit 17 greens today and had 30 putts - it was nice to see the ball go in the hole from 20 feet away."

Sweden's Joakim Backstrom did briefly reach eight under himself after 13 holes but three successive bogeys from the 15th saw him finish with a five-under-par 66.

The European No 1 David Howell had a torrid time with a quadruple-bogey eight at the water-guarded 18th for a seven-over round of 78, while his playing partner Jean van de Velde finished with a two-under-par 69 and the third member of their group, Ian Poulter, was one better.

Seve Ballesteros, a four-time winner of the French Open and making another comeback on the European Tour, carded a 10-over 81 after going bogey, double bogey, double bogey, triple bogey, double bogey around the turn.

"I'm encouraged for tomorrow. I'm sure it will be a better day tomorrow," said the Spaniard, making his first appearance since October last year.