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Three Way Tie at the Top in Sunny Heidelberg
Gregory Havret of France, Englishman David Howell and Trevor Immelman of South Africa, soaked up the sun in Heidelberg and flourished in the warmth by sharing the first round lead with seven under par 65s in the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open TPC of Europe at St Leon-Rot.

Havret, Howell and Immelman lead by one stroke from another international quartet, namely Robert-Jan Derksen of The Netherlands, Scotland’s Alan McLean, José Maria Olazábal of Spain and Germany’s Marcel Siem, who flew the home flag with distinction.

Immelman was the first person to show what could be done over the Dave Thomas-designed course at the headquarters of one of the tournament sponsors, SAP. The South African, who retained the South African Airways Open title in January,

With five birdies in an imperious opening six holes, Immelman knocked in his putts with considerable ease thanks to a recent switch to the popular ‘belly’ putter, inspired by playing partner, Vijay Singh in New Orleans.

“I started messing with it at the British Masters after being inspired by Vijay in New Orleans” he said. “I watched him holing all these putts down the stretch so I thought I would just give it a try and it felt great. I’ve been able to sustain my play tee to green and roll in a few putts. I’ve just kind of kept the momentum going since the British Masters, which was the first time I used it.”

Little did Immelman realise that he would stir up some strong feelings about his new-found putting implement. Fellow South African Ernie Els, who shot a five under par 67 and indicated that he had no wish to desert his conventional putter. Howell later joined in the chorus against the longer style of putter.

It is five years since Howell won the Dubai Desert Classic, since when the second success has been difficult to pin down. He admitted: “I would like to have done better, obviously. I am hoping that the reason I haven’t is down to the injuries I’ve sustained.

“I got to my highest World Ranking position two years ago then broke my arm and struggled. I came back in 2003 with a solid year and worked hard on my swing. If you had asked me ten years ago would I have taken this for the first nine years of my career, I would have taken your hand off. After five years – possibly not.”

Havret, like Howell, has one title to his name and is one of a strong group of Frenchmen to have won on The European Tour International Schedule over the past few seasons. His main ambition this year is to break into the top 50 on the Volvo Order of Merit and to represent France in the WGC-World Cup in Spain in November.

“That’s a big goal and I need to finish as one of the top two Frenchmen at the end of the year. I would love to play in that tournament for my country.”

Olazábal played nicely for his 66, but admitted time has run out on his attempt to be exempt for the US Open Championship next month. The two-time Masters Champion intends going through pre-qualifying for the first time in his life for any Major Championship.

To date, he has not been offered an invitation to play and commented: “In a way, you have to deserve it. I would love to play but it wouldn’t be fair on all the other guys trying their hearts out to get in. The way I’m playing at the moment, I haven’t earned my spot and it’s going to be like that. I’m going to try to earn it.”

Also on 66 were Siem, winner of this season’s dunhill championship in South Africa, McLean and Derksen. The latter, who landed the Dubai Desert Classic at Els’s expense in 2003, joked: “I seem to play well when Ernie is around. I like to compete against him!”

Meanwhile McLean, born in Clydebank near Glasgow, raised in South Africa and now resident in Canada, sustained his dream of playing in The Ryder Cup due to his parental qualifications.

“A good win would boost my position in the rankings” he said. “I have definitely been thinking about (The Ryder Cup) and I still haven’t given up the dream. When I first turned professional I was asked to pick my nationality and there was no option really. I picked Scotland.”

Sitting alongside Els on 67 is another Spaniard, Miguel Angel Jiménez, bidding for his fourth title of the 2004 campaign. The 40 year old, already a certainty to make a second appearance in The Ryder Cup in September, had an eagle and four birdies in his round to match the score of England’s Barry Lane, recent winner of The Daily Telegraph Damovo British Masters title.

Courtesy of www.europeantour.com  

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