Veteran Welsh golfer Bradley Dredge conquered stifling heat and windy conditions to take a one-shot lead at the French Open, but he is being tailed by Graeme McDowell.
The French Open is being played at Le Golf National, the venue for September’s Ryder Cup.
The 44-year-old Dredge, who won the last of his two European Tour titles back in 2006 at the European Masters, carded a four-under par 67 on a day when only 14 players broke par for the first round.
“It was getting tougher and tougher out there so I am obviously delighted with that score to start the tournament off,” said Dredge.
“I think it’s playing just right at the moment in terms of firmness. There’s just a bit of give on the fairways and the greens.”
America’s world number two Justin Thomas, getting an early sighter of the Ryder Cup course, was three shots off the pace on one-under as was Spain’s Jon Rahm, the world number five.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, a two-time French Open champion and one of Thomas Bjorn’s vice-captains for the Ryder Cup, and Andy Sullivan of England shared second spot, one back from Dredge.
Thomas said it was difficult to judge the course ahead of the September 28-30 Ryder Cup where the United States will be the defending champions when cool autumn conditions will replace the heat of high summer.
“I can’t imagine how it has the potential to play in September. I think all of us will be happy to know that this will be a match-play and not a stroke-play event,” he said.
“You get a cold, rainy, windy day out here and you can post a pretty high number. You can’t really take any shots off. You really have to take each and every shot and execute really well.”
McDowell, who fired seven birdies, has not given up hope of playing in the European Ryder Cup team.
However, even if he experiences the 42nd Ryder Cup as one of Bjorn’s lieutenants, the Northern Irishman believes Thursday’s round will stand him in good stead.
“One of the important things of this golf course is something that captain Bjorn, we have been talking about, it’s just a level of comfort that you have to have on this golf course because it is a super intimidating track,” he said.
“You stand on the tee boxes and all you can see is high rough and you have to be comfortable about where you’re positioning the ball off these tees.”
Bjorn is also playing the event although he is not likely to make the cut after carding an opening 10-over 81.
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits from Richard Barrett)