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.