VERSAILLES, France – Robert-Jan Derksen led the French Open after he shot an 8-under 63 in the first round on Thursday.
That gave the Dutchman a three-shot advantage over a group of three players, Germany’s Martin Kaymer, the defending champion, Spain’s Alejandro Canizares, and the semiretired Frenchman Jean Van de Velde, who all shot 66s earlier in the day.
Van de Velde, the colorful 44-year-old who so nearly won the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, is building a new career in various branches of the media.
During the afternoon, as Derksen was producing his eight-birdie effort, Van de Velde was commentating on the leader’s round on French television.
Derksen has won only twice on the European Tour, but his 2003 victory in the Dubai Desert Classic was in a strong field like the one assembled this week at the Le Paris National course, where four of the world’s top 10 are playing.
And he hopes that eight-year-old memory will serve him well over the final three rounds.
“I always think of Dubai to give me confidence because that was such a strong one that I beat then,” he said after getting within one birdie of the course record.
“But perhaps it is not a coincidence because this course is very similar to the one in Dubai, there is a lot of trouble but it rewards the best golf.
“The greens here do get tougher late in the day, but it did not bother me as I hit so many of my irons close to the flags. I did not sink one long birdie putt, they were all from pretty close range.”
Van de Velde also played on memories in his round in only his second tournament of 2010 after missing the cut at the Ballantines Championship in South Korea in April.
“This course has a special place in my heart,” Van de Velde said. “I have played it so often that I must have played shots from every part of the course, some of which you should not visit.
“I also had a bit of luck, but was also helped by the fact that I came with no expectation having played so little golf. But to shoot a score like this in the French Open is very special.”
After a series of late fitness tests, four notable players competed in the first round despite have missed the Wednesday pro-am with injuries.
World No. 3 Lee Westwood carried a swollen calf muscle while shooting a 70, and a swollen hand did not seem to inconvenience Matteo Manassero as he shot a level 71.
Ian Poulter three-putted two of his last three greens on his way to a 72 despite an infected flea bite, and Colin Montgomerie’s torn calf muscle did not prevent him shooting a 73.