Rafferty on song with birdie burst

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The Independent Online

Ronan Rafferty, the former European No 1 who has not had a win for nearly three years, took a step on the road back with an opening 66 in the Peugeot French Open in Paris yesterday. Five birdies in his last eight holes took the 32-year-old Ulsterman into a six-way tie for the lead.

Eight more players are just a stroke behind on a day of low scoring when virtually half the 155-strong field broke par. Colin Montgomerie and Seve Ballesteros were not among them, however. An erratic Ballesteros had a level 72, while Montgomerie, cursing his putting yet again, managed only a 73. Their first task today is to try to make the half-way cut.

Rafferty, who topped the money list in 1989 and helped Europe retain the Ryder Cup that year, slumped to a worst-ever 64th position two years ago and stands 110th in this season's Order of Merit.

"I've played well in stretches, but there has been a big leap in standard lately and my game has not improved in line with that," he said. "This is my 15th year on the circuit, but I've always had ambition to be successful." He started his late dash for top place with a 25-foot putt on the short 11th and then had three successive birdies from the 13th.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 26