Struver strives for lead

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The Independent Online

It is six years since Sven Struver announced himself to the European Tour with a 62 in the German Open. He wore glasses then, and had a bookish air that suggested that if he nipped into a telephone box, he might emerge as, well, the new Bernhard Langer.

That was the theory anyway - and one that Langer himself subscribed to - although the German has been a long time over his metamorphosis. A slow, almost anonymous, climb through the rankings had been his stock in trade until he grabbed hold of the first round of the Murphy's Irish Open at Mount Juliet yesterday.

He went round the Jack Nicklaus-designed course in a seven-under-par 65 to lead the pounds 650,000 event by two strokes from Robert Allenby and Roger Chapman, neither of whom was expected to eclipse the top-of-the-bill names who had been attracted to (or should that be paid a small fortune to be in) Ireland.

Struver, 27, who equalled the official course record, kept an unblemished card, picking up seven birdies on the way, one of which was procured even though he drove 70 yards right of where he intended at the 12th. "I had a good putter," he said. "It kept me alive. It was my best round of the year."

It marked a considerable improvement on a visit to Ireland in 1988, when he left Royal Portrush on a stretcher after his right knee collapsed. "It wasn't funny," he said several times, as he related how he had been flat out in a bunker for 10 minutes before help arrived. But he had a broad grin on his face anyway.

As, indeed, did Allenby, who has taken to Mount Juliet in much the same way Romeo was struck by a girl of a similar name. In the pro-am, he hit an unofficial course record of 63, nine under par, which provoked the comment: "It must be Wednesday," from David Feherty, who was implying it was not possible in the tournament proper.

So it proved, but only by four shots, as Allenby - second here behind Langer last year - had seven birdies and two bogeys in a 67 that included a successful 20ft putt at the second and a 30-footer at the fourth. This despite being warned for slow play.

"The only difference from Wednesday was my putting," he said. "I missed five putts from inside 12ft and three from seven feet or less, and on greens this true you should be taking your chances." Looking forward, he added: "If I can beat Greg Norman I will be very close. The way he is playing, he will be up there."

Yesterday, a lot of people beat Norman, who began with a messy bogey and did not exactly accelerate away from the scene of the accident. His 70 left him in a pack that included Seve Ballesteros (72), Langer (72) and Ian Woosnam (73), and a long way short of the form that had brought him a record of first, fourth, second and first coming into this event.

His appearance was less than the sponsors' had hoped for too. Having sold the tournament with advertisements showing Norman's trade mark bush hat, the organisers had to sip and bear it when the Australian perversely chose to wear a baseball cap yesterday. Like their product, let's hope they are not bitter.

MURPHY'S IRISH OPEN (Mount Juliet) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 65 S Struver (Ger). 67 R Chapman; R Allenby (Aus). 68 M Gates; C Cevaer (Fr); M A Jimenez (Sp); D Hospital (Sp); P Way; W Riley (Aus); S Lyle; C Montgomerie; S Torrance; P Simpson; M Campbell (NZ). 69 T Price (Aus); M Clayton (Aus); P Quirici (Swit); C Stadler (US); T Levet (Fr); J Gronhagen (Swe); P Walton; P Talbot. 70 R Wessels (SA); G Orr; O Karlsson (Swe); W Westner (SA); A Forsbrand (Swe); M McLean; P Golding; D Gilford; A Oldcorn; L Westwood; G Norman (Aus); L Parsons (Aus); J Quiros (Sp); D J Russell. 71 C O'Connor Jnr; S Richardson; S Grappasonni (It); S Bottomley; M Farry (Fr); F Nobilo (NZ); R Rafferty; O Rojahn (Nor); A Coltart; E Darcy; H Clark; M Roberts; J Hawksworth; T Johnstone (Zim); D Smyth; J Van de Velde (Fr); F Andersson (Swe).