VERSAILLES, June 30, 2011 (AFP) - Former winner Graeme Storm shot a six-under 65 at Le Golf National on Thursday to grab a share of the French Open first round lead with Richard Green of Australia.
The 33-year-old Englishman triumphed here in 2007, for the finest win of his career, and after struggling all season, he found his form once again on the course that will host the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Storm had six birdies for no bogeys, going out in 34 and coming back in an excellent 31 which included a birdie at the tough par-four 17th.
"There's always added pressure when you come back because people say 'you won on one of the toughest courses in Europe and you obviously like it around that course,'" he said.
"And I do without a doubt. But you've still got to put the work in, still do all the preparation and go through it.
"But don't get me wrong, it's fantastic to always come back and know that you've won around here before."
Green is another who has struggled for form this year, but he too has a liking for the French Golf Federation's flagship course outside Versailles having enjoyed a couple of second-place finishes here in the past.
The 40-year-old from Melbourne even got to seven under through 14 holes, but a bogey on the 17th, due to a poor chip, cost him the outright lead.
"I like the layout of the golf course very much," he said.
"I like the way it plays bouncy. I tend to sort of mentally like difficult golf holes and I think I focus a little bit harder for that very reason. This golf course offers a lot of difficult golf holes."
A stroke further back on five under were Norway's Thorbjorn Olesen, George Coetzee of South Africa and England's James Morrison.
A total of 11 players were grouped on 68 including 18-year-old Italian prodigy Matteo Manassero and Asian challengers Jeev Milka Singh of India and Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand.
Last year’s Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie - runner-up three years ago and looking for a top five finish to book a late entry into next month's British Open - was going well at two under, but then bogeyed two of his last three holes for a 71.
Martin Kaymer, another former winner at Le Golf National, in 2009, could only muster a one over par 72. A top eight finish this week would see the German reclaim the world No.3 ranking from US Open champion Rory McIlroy.
The US challenge was expected to come from world No.12 Bubba Watson, but he slumped to a three over 74 and will have a battle on his hands just to make the cut in his first appearance in France.
Asked for his impressions Watson replied: "I love France, France is a nice place. Paris is a beautiful city.
"I went to the Eiffel Tower, to the Louvre, something like that, and the arch way (sic) and saw the castle that we are staying next to."
It was a miserable day meanwhile for four players - Damien McGrane, Rikard Karlberg, Jaco Van Zyl and James Ruebotham.
They were all disqualified for inadvertedly taking a drop from the wrong place after hitting into the lake that protects the 18th green.
Leading scores on Thursday in the first round of the French Open at the par-71 Le Golf National course:
65 - Richard Green (AUS), Graeme Storm (ENG)
66 - Thorbjorn Olesen (NOR), George Coetzee (RSA), James Morrison (ENG)
68 - Paul Broadhurst (ENG), Mark Foster (ENG), Julien Guerrier (FRA), Jeppe Huldahl (NOR), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Michael Jonzon (SWE), Matteo Manassero (ITA), Matthew Nixon (ENG), Jeev Milkha Singh (IND), Anthony Wall (ENG), Peter Whiteford (SCO)
69 - Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL), Jean-Francois Lucquin (FRA), David Lynn (ENG), Otto Hennie (RSA), Richie Ramsay (SCO), Robert Dinwiddie (ENG)
70 - Jamie Donaldson (WAL), Rafa Echenique (ARG), Anders Hansen (DEN), Peter Hanson (SWE), Simon Khan (ENG), Thomas Levet (FRA), Gareth Maybin (NIR), Christian Nilsson (SWE), Robert Rock (USA), Chris Wood (ENG)