Oldcorn feels at home on top of leaderboard

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Andrew Oldcorn is shaping up to be Europe's answer to Mark O'Meara. A forty-something avuncular American who had been around almost as long as the Grand Canyon, O'Meara hit the jackpot in 1998 when he won the Masters at Augusta and the Open at Royal Birkdale. Oldcorn has yet to do anything as grand as that, but he is in the swing.

At the Compass English Open yesterday he shot 67 in the first round and reappeared on what he now believes is his natural habitat ­ the top of the leaderboard.

For Oldcorn, life is beginning at 41. Yesterday morning he teed off from the 10th hole with Paul Lawrie, the Scotsman who won the Open in an unforgettable finale at Carnoustie in 1999, and Lee Westwood, the Englishman ranked sixth in the world and the player who last season deprived Colin Montgomerie of the leadership of the Volvo Order of Merit.

Oldcorn finished five under par, Lawrie two under and Westwood five over. For no reason that he is aware of, Oldcorn is playing the best golf of a career that hit the middle of the fairway in 1982 when he won the English Amateur Championship.

The following year he turned professional, winning the qualifying school ­ anybody who can win the English amateur and the school has proof positive that they are on the right career path ­ and earned £141.

A couple of weeks ago, Oldcorn, born in Bolton, a resident of Edinburgh and Scottish by choice, confirmed the potential of 19 years ago by winning the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth, the European Tour's flagship event. He not only held off Nick Faldo, but earned a five-year exemption, winning £330,000 and, mentally at least, went from 5ft 10in to 6ft 6in in the space of a week. The Oldcorn is as high as an elephant's eye.

Question: In the draw for the tournament you are in one of the prime groups, do you enjoy that? "Absolutely, I'm glad somebody asked me that. I feel really comfortable with where I am now and I'm enjoying it, I really am. It has taken a whole lot of tension out of my golf. There is not so much pressure involved in thinking about other things. I think people are treating me with the bit of respect that I deserve. I am now at a stage where I thought I would get to.''

A wind gusting over this course, which measures 7,182 yards, meant that the vast majority of the field should have been issued with a compass by the sponsors. Not Oldcorn. Take the fifth, a par three of 196 yards. He missed the green with a four iron on the left. "I thinned my chip and it hit the pin smack in the middle and dropped into the hole. If it hadn't hit the flag it would have easily been 40 feet past and from there I would have struggled to even make bogey, so it was the turning point in my round. I just flowed from there.''

Only Adam Scott, the young Australian, could match Oldcorn's 67. Scott had six birdies and a solitary bogey, a four at the 15th. He, too, had a stroke of luck, this time at the sixth where he holed out from 50 feet for a birdie three.

As for the "big three", Westwood's 77 matched the score of Omar Sandys, the young South African on his first overseas journey. Sandys, from the township of Welkom, is being supported by Darren Clarke and Westwood. Clarke, who has won this tournament for the last two years, made a disappointing start with a two over par 74 and Montgomerie, one of his playing partners, had an even more disconcerting 76.

Deep in the forest something is stirring and it is not the favourites. They can't see the woods for the trees.

COMPASS ENGLISH OPEN (Forest of Arden) Leading early first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 67 A Oldcorn, A Scott (Aus). 68 M Bernardini (It). 69 D Howell, C Rocca (It). 70 P O'Malley (Aus), P Lawrie, A Wall, J Hugo (SA), M McNulty (Zim). 71 J Lomas, P Mitchell, J Rystrom (Swe), S Leaney (Aus), M Lundberg (Swe). 72 V Phillips, S Dodd, S Tinning (Den), G Havret (Fr), F Cea (Sp), I Garbutt, I Poulter, G Turner (NZ), B Dredge, J Rose. 73 R Wessels (SA), Yeh Wei-tze (Tpe), A Forsyth, A Raitt, P Quirici (Swit), W Bennett, B Davis, P Fowler (Aus), Steve Webster, G Emerson, E Simsek (Ger), M Brier (Aut), T Dier (Ger), R Jacquelin (Fr). 74 B Lane, D Carter, P Hanson (Swe), G Evans, A Marshall, R Winchester. 75 P Walton, G Rojas (Arg), J Robinson, S Richardson, C Suneson (Sp). 76 R Johnson (Swe), P Broadhurst, E Darcy, R Russell, P Wesselingh, D Lee, G Brand Jr, C Hall, E Carlberg (Swe), J Moseley (Aus), D Higgins.