Slowly does it as Goosen states case for defence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The rain that fell insistently earlier in the week only added to the sombre atmosphere at the Lancôme Trophy as the European Tour resumed operations after the shocking events in America.

"We are all competitors," Colin Montgomerie said. But the competitive juices were not flowing for Monty as he missed the cut. Though absolutely right that this week's Ryder Cup was called off as a mark of respect, the postponement of golf's biggest contest has left a hole in the season for those due to tee up at The Belfry.

That hardly registers on the emotional scale at the moment but it appeared therapeutic for the three other members of the European Ryder Cup team to grace the leaderboard in Paris. Phillip Price, who only just hung on to the last qualifying place last month, scored a 66 to lie three behind the leader, Retief Goosen.

"I still feel a bit flat, to be honest, after everything that has happened," Price said, "but it was nice to get into the rhythm of scoring again." Niclas Fasth also had a 66 and shared second place, one behind Goosen with Sergio Garcia, who found the water at the last in his 68.

This event, which has been going for 31 years, has often had the feel of a garden party. That is not the case this year, especially with the sponsors removing all their hospitality initiatives. At least the weather behaved at last, and if there was the perfect autumnal sunshine to enjoy the splendour of the Château at Versailles, many thousands were already booked to descend on St Nom-la-Bretêche.

Tiger Woods had been due to appear but instead the galleries avidly watched every last waggle of Garcia's increasingly lengthy pre-shot routine. Just ahead, Goosen, the first-round leader, was compiling a bogey-free 65. The South African had opened with a 64 but found his timing out during a second round of 71.

"I tried to slow everything down and found I played much better and my confidence rose," he said.

Goosen is the reigning US Open champion but is well known in France as a double winner of the country's national Open. "I have never managed to defend a title," he said. "I have won the French twice but they were three years apart." Though clearly comfortable on a course that offers sweet memories from 12 months ago, Goosen knows he will have to continue the low-scoring trend on such a layout that remains soft. "Sergio will be the man to beat," he added. Goosen did beat the Spaniard in a match at the World Match Play at Wentworth two years ago.

That was the match in which Garcia ripped off a shoe and kicked it perilously close to the head of the referee. "I'd better stand a bit further away when I walk off the tee tomorrow," Goosen suggested gently. Garcia, the leader for much of the early part of the round, almost did not make it into the final threesome today.

The 18th hole, unusually, is a par three with a downhill tee shot of 209 yards to a green that features a small but psychologically threatening pond just to its right. Having birdied the 17th to draw level again with Goosen, Garcia then leaked his tee-shot into the water. From the drop zone, on a tiny island in the pond, he chipped seven feet past the hole and then made the bogey putt though only after the ball circled the cup.

Garcia has not won in Europe for two years, since his rookie season in 1999, but won twice in the summer in America. Today represents his last opportunity to win on this side of the Atlantic as he will be taking the next four weeks off at home in Valencia and then returning to the States, where he will play for the first time in the Tour Championship.

"I am hitting the ball really well and I just have to keep doing that," Garcia said. "I have more confidence because I know I have won twice this year."

Mark Roe won this title nine years ago and had led at the halfway stage despite a swollen wrist following a wasp sting on Thursday evening. He needs a high finish to secure his card for next year but yesterday slipped down the leaderboard with a 75. The swelling had spread into his hand by yesterday morning and had reached his knuckles. It was if it reached his fingers that he was worried he could not play, but wearing a glove on his left hand throughout the day helped reduce the swelling.

"I have no excuses," Roe said. "I played poorly and putted poorly. The swelling did not affect my swing except mentally because when I woke up this morning I didn't think I could play, and if I did, was not sure if I could play tomorrow. Wearing the glove helped and I might keep it on all night."