Alberto Binaghi, called into the French Open only on Tuesday, took full advantage of the late chance at Le Golf National yesterday. While Colin Montgomerie's disappointing start to 2000 continued with a 71, the Italian shot a six-under-par 66 to establish a one-stroke lead over the Spaniards Francisco Cea and Fernando Roca.
The 35-year-old from Milan had his bags in the boot of his car ready to depart for a Challenge Tour event in Switzerland when the call came to re-route to France. Gary Orr had decided to stay at home to be with his wife Sarah, who had their first child yesterday, and that left a vacant place.
"Now I want to make full use of it," said the man who has had to make eight trips to the European tour qualifying school in his career and lost his card again last year. He has never finished higher than seventh in any tournament since making his debut in 1984, but with nine first-time winners on the circuit already this season he is hoping the trend continues.
"It helps when you see people who have been struggling to win," Binaghi added. "We can all hit the ball, but you have to feel it, the ability to win inside, and my confidence is not that big. In the last 10 to 12 years I've only had that feeling a couple of times."
Binaghi had seven birdies but also three-putted both the sixth for bogey and the long 18th for par. At least that was better than in practice, though, when he hit three balls into the lake on the hole.
Montgomerie summed up his day with a succinct "nothing to report". Putting was his main concern after finishing fifth in the Spanish Open last weekend, and when he opened by sinking a 20-footer all was well with the world.
However, Europe's No 1 for the past seven seasons, more than £530,000 behind the current Order of Merit leader Darren Clarke, failed to follow it up and again finds himself with ground to make up.
The top three names on the leaderboard are 176th, 128th and 177th on the Order of Merit. Cea is the European tour's straightest driver, but it has not translated in cash terms yet. Despite leading the driving accuracy category last season, he finished 58th on the Order of Merit - and while he leads the category again this year, jointly with John Bickerton, he has yet to record a top-20 finish.
Roca has had 10 visits to the tour qualifying school but has also two runners-up finishes, first behind Paul Lawrie in the 1996 Catalan Open and then behind Lee Westwood in the Scandinavian Masters the same year.
NOVOTEL PERRIER FRENCH OPEN (Le Golf National, Paris) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated):
66 A Binaghi (It); 67 F Cea (Sp), F Roca (Sp); 68 J Sandelin (Swe), S Hansen (Den), J van de Velde (Fr), S Allan (Aus), P O'Malley (Aus); 69 M A Martin (Sp), R Byrd (US), J Haeggman (Swe), N O'Hern (Aus), S Tinning (Den), A Coltart, R Winchester, R Wessels (SA), R Davis (Aus); 70 S Rowe (US), J-F Remesy (Fr), D Smyth, *B Lecuona (Fr), E Canonica (It), J Coceres (Arg), A Cejka (Ger), O Edmond (Fr), C Rodiles (Sp), J Rivero (Sp), G Owen, P Lonard (Aus), A Hansen (Den), M Campbell (NZ), S Kjeldsen (Den), P McGinley, N Vanhootegem (Bel), G Rojas (Arg); 71 S Leaney (Aus), A Cabrera (Arg), B Davis, C Montgomerie, M Jonzon (Swe), F Jacobson (Swe), D Lee, M Gronberg (Swe), R Karlsson (Swe), D Park, L Alexandre (Fr), A Wall, B Dredge, G Hamerton. Selected: 72 S Ballesteros (Sp), R Claydon; 73 J Spence, D Gilford; 74 B Lane; 75 A Sherborne; 77 C Rocca (It), P Walton; 78 A Forsbrand (Swe), P Eales. *denotes amateur