Karlsson keeps on course for Merit title

Robert Karlsson took another stride towards the European Order of Merit title with an opening three-under-par 69 at the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura today.

The 39-year-old Swede, already €143,500 clear of second-placed Padraig Harrington, was three behind early pacesetters Mark Foster and Alvaro Quiros.

But Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez, his two closest money list challengers in the event at third and fourth, managed only 72 and 73 respectively.

“I played like a tired man that wants the year to end,” said Westwood, who admitted to a bad decision when he tried for the green in two at the long 17th, went in the lake and then three-putted for a double-bogey seven.

The trio were playing together and were followed by an official in a buggy for a while after falling behind the group ahead.

“He could have given me a ride, my legs were that tired,” added Westwood.

Karlsson stated: “I didn’t play great and made a couple of mistakes, but everyone is talking about the Order of Merit and I’m just trying to play this event. It’s not that easy.”

Asked about his own fatigue levels he commented: “You definitely know you have flown all over the world for 10 months.”

And on being timed for possible slow play he was able to joke: “If you are Swedish you get used to it.”

Teeing off in what he called “semi-dark” did not stop Foster from his sparkling start.

The 33-year-old, like Westwood from Worksop, was in the first group at 7.50am and said: “It was pitch black at 7.30, but once we got going it was OK.”

The twice English amateur champion birdied three of his first six holes and after bogeying the next came back with four more birdies in a front-nine 32.

Foster is currently 88th on the money list and added: “My bad has not been bad, but my good has not been good enough. I’ve not been doing anything wrong, but not enough right.”

Quiros, the Tour’s longest hitter, turned in a six-under 30, ran up a six on the long fifth, but birdied again three holes later.

Harrington is not competing this or next week, having gone to Bermuda for the PGA Grand Slam, and so is hoping that Karlsson stays within range at the season-ending Volvo Masters in two weeks’ time.

For the second year running the Irishman lost a play-off at Mid-Ocean, this time to Jim Furyk, in the four-man 36-hole event. It meant a cheque for €230,000 rather than €450,000.

Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie and defending champion Steve Webster were among the later starters.

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