Gonzalez flies into lead

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The Independent Online

Ricardo Gonzalez, the longest hitter in Europe this season, took a one-stroke lead in the Omega European Masters first round here today.

In the rarefied air nearly 5,000 feet up in the Alps, Gonzalez unleashed a drive of 330 yards at the 598-yard 14th, hit a four-wood on to the green and holed from 14 feet for an eagle.

That was the highlight of a six-under-par 65, which left him just ahead of the Danish Ryder Cup player Thomas Bjorn, the Scots Dean Robertson and Gordon Brand Jnr, the German Thomas Gögele and another Swede, Henrik Nystrom.

Gonzalez and his compatriot Angel Cabrera are the only two men to average over 300 yards off the tee on the circuit this year, but Gonzalez's problem is his accuracy. Of the 191 players ranked he is 184th in fairways hit, averaging only 53.4 per cent, but this was one of his good days.

His only bogey came at the short 13th and, having already had three birdies, he followed it not only with the eagle, but also further birdies at the 15th and 17th.

Victory this weekend could take the 31-year-old former caddie from 39th place into Europe's top 20 and therefore into next week's $5m (£3.5m) world championship in America.

Lee Westwood, on his return from a wrist injury, was happy enough with how he played and felt in his 70, but he did complain about mobile phones going off. "I wish I had shares in Swiss Telecom," he said.

The start was delayed for 80 minutes because of frost and Westwood, arriving at the course with five layers on, but only a cap on his head, said: "I was freezing, as cold as I've been for a long time."

Nick Faldo also scored 70, while the world No 4 Ernie Els, who like Westwood has still to win this season, reckoned that the combination of altitude and low temperature caused him to mis-club no fewer than six times in his level-par 71.

Bjorn, who has not won since beating Tiger Woods in Dubai in March, had a chance to change that last Sunday but fired a 76 and dropped from third to 16th. "I had one thing on my mind and that was to win and all of a sudden I knew that wasn't going to happen," he said, adding on the Ryder Cup: "I feel my game is right where I want it. I'm not making any mistakes, I feel comfortable on the course and this is the right time of the year to feel like that."

He believes the Americans do not have superior strength in depth. "If you go down their list... Woods, Mickelson, Duval, Love... they look very scary," he said. "But when you go down the rest of the team we match them very evenly. That is what we have to take advantage of."

Scores, Digest, page 27

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