Phillip "Tell 'em who I beat" Price will be remembered forever for defeating Phil Mickelson at the Ryder Cup last year. The Welshman played his best round since that September afternoon to share the lead in the first round of the Smurfit European Open at the K Club yesterday.
Price has struggled for form ever since qualifying for the Ryder Cup team in 2001 and this season has so far been a frustrating journey. But a six-under-par 66, polished off with a pitch to a foot at the last for a closing birdie, equalled the course record set moments earlier by Scotland's Alastair Forsyth. Retief Goosen, the 2001 US Open champion, made it a trio of leaders.
This is one of those technical course records. A couple of years ago the course was stretched and tweaked and so the old record was wiped out. This was a pity for Darren Clarke as his round of 60 here in 1999 remains one of the great rounds on the European Tour.
Last year when the new record was established, Clarke at least got in on the act with one of a number of 67s. He had another yesterday to join a group that included Andrew Coltart.
Price's best result of the year so far was his seventh at the Wales Open in May, but since then he has not made a cut. "It's been a frustrating year, a series of what-could-have-beens," Price said. "The game has been tidy but not great. I've been waiting for something to click. I've got to get on with it and stop feeling sorry for myself."
You might have thought a viewing of his match against Mickelson from the Ryder Cup might help. Apparently not. "I'm sick of it," he said. The Welshman is not a natural graduate of the fame academy. "It's been like nothing I expected. It's been nice in some ways but not in all."
Forsyth, who had birdies at the last three holes and did not drop a shot, continued his good form after finishing second at Gleneagles a fortnight ago. The 27-year-old rescued his career when he won in Malaysia at the start of last season when he did not have a tour card.
Philip Golding won last week in Paris after years of never being able to retain his card. The 40-year-old got back home late on Sunday night to be greeted by family, friends and neighbours banging the pots and pans in the street for him. "It was quite a din," Golding said. "It must have woken up most of Bushey."
Golding had a triple-bogey at the 17th, his eighth, on the way to a 78, but his playing partners, Padraig Harrington and Thomas Bjorn, both replayed their own horror stories from playing the week after winning for the first time. "Thomas and Padraig were great," he said. "They could not have been happier for me and told me not to worry about how I played.
"There has been a lot going on the last few days and I haven't been able to focus on my golf. It's disappointing because I still wanted to play well and it will be difficult to make the cut now but whatever happens I'm determined to enjoy this week."
Gary Evans, who had a 68, can approach the Open Championship, where he had that memorable final round last year, in a more relaxed frame of mind after a worrying time earlier in the year. In March, his four-year-old daughter Olivia underwent an operation to repair the hole in her heart with which she was born. "I was a nervous wreck before the operation but the doctor has said it was a success which is fantastic news," Evans said.
Colin Montgomerie may have turned 40, but life's slings and arrows are still heading his way after his drive at the ninth, his last, landed behind a tree and gave him no shot. A closing bogey dropped the Scot back to a 68, but he was encouraged by his improved form.
Montgomerie's wife, Eimear, who has only been playing for a month, scored 108 in her first competition on Wednesday, but was out of the firing line here.
Stephen Leaney's wife, Tracey, who is pregnant, was hit on the head by Clarke with his tee shot at the 11th. She was unharmed but for a small cut. "The last woman I hit on the course was Barbara Nicklaus at the Open in 1993," Clarke said. "My record is not very good."
SMURFIT EUROPEAN OPEN (K Club, Co Kildare) Early leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 66 A Forsyth, P Price, R Goosen (SA). 67 F Andersson (Swe), A Coltart, G Murphy, D Clarke, S Hansen (Den). 68 M McNulty (Zim), C Montgomerie, G Evans. 69 E Romero (Arg), G McDowell, R Gonzalez (Arg), A Raitt, S Scahill (NZ), K Eriksson (Swe), M Ilonen (Fin),
N Fasth (Swe), M Lafeber (Neth). 70 S Webster, N O'Hern (Aus), B Lane, A Cabrera (Arg), G Owen, L Westwood, M Vibe-Hastrup (Den), M Farry (Fr), S Dodd, R Chapman, M Campbell (NZ). 71 M Roe, J Donaldson, T Bjorn (Den), T Dier (Ger), J Bickerton, G Rojas (Arg), S Gallacher, D Lynn, W Bennett, S Khan, M Maritz (SA), R Wessels (SA). 72 R Karlsson (Swe), S Lyle, R Jacquelin (Fr), G Havret (Fr), C Schwartzel (SA), P Hedblom (Swe), D Mooney, J Sandelin (Swe), M James, D Howell, P McGinley, C Rocca (It), M Pilkington. 73 J Clement (Swit), D Carter, D McGrane, A Oldcorn, D Gilford, S Tinning (Den), K Ferrie, P Harrington, M Gronberg (Swe), J-F Remesy (Fr), J Heggarty, S Webster, M Lundberg (Swe), L James, R Green (Aus), E Canonica (It), R Muntz (Neth), B Langer (Ger), P Casey, Peter Lawrie, C Rodiles (Sp), A Hansen (Den).
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