Nick Dougherty has reignited his challenge to be part of Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup team next month. Ever since his mother died after a heart attack in April, the 26-year-old from Liverpool has struggled for focus, not even managing a top-50 finish in his last seven starts. But an opening four-under-par 66 at the SAS Masters in Stockholm – the event in which he was joint runner-up last year – has enabled Dougherty to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"It keeps the dream alive," he said after taking a share of the lead with Swede Peter Hanson and Spaniard Pedro Linhart in a round where the highlight was a 142-yard wedge on the downwind 12th which flew straight into the cup for an eagle two.
Dougherty led the points table after winning the Dunhill Links title at St Andrews last October, but is down to 15th with this event and only two more counting tournaments to come.
To Dougherty's surprise, ninth-placed Oliver Wilson and 10th-placed Soren Hansen are taking this week off after missing the cut, like him, in last week's US PGA. "I've not played a good round in what feels like forever, but I played some really really great golf there," he added, having begun with a 30-foot par saving putt and having kept a bogey off his card in the strong wind and showers. Hanson covered the front nine in a four-under 30 to catch Dougherty.
Linhart, 219th on the Order of Merit and 1,276th in the world, then made it a three-way tie with two closing birdies on the front nine. German Martin Kaymer, 11th in the Ryder Cup race and with a chance to leap to eighth, had a one-under 69, as did Paul McGinley, who is down in 28th spot in the standings.