Horne’s 64 leads in Wales; McDowell 3 back

South African journeyman Keith Horne led the Wales Open after
shooting a 7-under 64 in the opening round Thursday, with defending
champion Graeme McDowell trailing by three strokes at Celtic
Manor.

Horne made birdies on five of the last eight holes on his Wales
Open debut, his 100th tournament on the European Tour since 2000.
He shot 30 on the back nine of the links course.

Horne turned pro at 25 and turns 40 next week. He secured his
European Tour card last year and is still seeking his first tour
win.

”The golf course was playing as easy as it’s going to play,”
said the 289th-ranked Horne. ”The front nine was pretty tough
because it was a bit cold and the ball wasn’t going that far. The
pins were pretty difficult on the front nine, too.

”Once I started to warm up myself and make a few birdies, I
actually really enjoyed the back nine.”

Ryder Cup player Peter Hanson was second after making four
straight birdies from No. 14 in, shooting a 65. The Swede was
followed by English pair Steve Webster and Paul Broadhurst plus
Alvaro Velasco of Spain, who all shot 66.

McDowell, Hanson’s playing partner, was next in a group of six.
He eagled the par-4 No. 15 with a 30-foot putt. But he failed with
a birdie attempt at the next, the same hole where his 20-footer
clinched victory over Hunter Mahan in the Ryder Cup last
October.

”I guess I’ve used all my magic up on that green,” McDowell
said. ”Overall, I’m very happy with the way I played. The course
is running pretty fast and firm, so it’s playing reasonably short.
The greens are not as good as I’ve seen them here at Celtic Manor.
The greens are very receptive and very soft and there’s quite a lot
of growth on them, so they are tough to putt on.

”Generally, very happy with 4 under par, very happy with the
way I struck the ball and there were a lot of good things, a lot of
positives out there.”

John Daly made four bogeys on the front nine and two on the back
in a 77.

Elliot Saltman of Scotland, who completed a three-month ban from
the European Tour last month for marking his ball incorrectly, had
a hole-in-one at No. 17. He followed it up with an eagle in a round
of 73, the same score as his brother Lloyd.

McDowell won the US Open champion after a victory at the Wales
Open last year. Despite missing the cut at the BMW PGA Championship
at Wentworth last week, the Northern Irishman is mostly pleased
with his game.

”I feel like I’ve got a better understanding for my golf swing
and what I’m trying to do with it,” McDowell said. ”I can see my
way around the golf course now. I was really happy with that ball
flight, to see that coming back into my game was nice, and I drove
the ball really solidly today as well.”

Hanson, McDowell, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ross Fisher are the
only Ryder Cup players in the field, although captain Colin
Montgomerie and vice captains Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn are
also playing.

Fisher failed to come through qualifying for the US Open on
Monday. He needs to play well at Celtic Manor if he is to regain a
place in the top 50 and win a place at the tournament on
Washington’s Congressional course from June 16-19.

The Englishman rallied from bogeys at No. 12 and No. 13 with
birdies in three of the last four holes in a 70, including at the
last where his long eagle putt stopped just before the cup.

Jimenez shot a 73, while Montgomerie signed for a 77 only four
days after his first top-10 finish in almost three years, when he
finished joint seventh at the BMW PGA Championship.