Casey, Browne charge into lead

Paul Casey, winner of the title the last time the European tour visited The Belfry, charged into the lead when the Quinn Direct British Masters began today.

Paul Casey, winner of the title the last time the European tour visited The Belfry, charged into the lead when the Quinn Direct British Masters began today.

On a sunny and calm morning Casey, currently in the 10th and last automatic spot on the Ryder Cup table, went to the turn in a three-under-par 33 and then started the front nine with another birdie.

That put the Surrey golfer, Benson and Hedges International champion over the famous lay-out in 2003, level with Ireland’s Stephen Browne and one ahead of fellow Englishman David Lynn, Swedes Johan Edfors and Fredrik Widmark and France’s Jean-Francois Lucquin.

Browne, who made his first cut of the season in the Spanish Open two weeks ago, birdied the 12th and 14th and then eagled the 566-yard 15th.

Darren Clarke, who on the eve of the event said he did not expect to make the cut, let alone win, also reached three under, but bogeyed the 473-yard 18th.

The Ulsterman, who with his wife battling cancer is understandably struggling for focus and admits he probably would not have played but for the fact that his management company is promoter of the event, was bunkered off the tee, then missed the green right and failed to get up and down.

Clarke was playing with David Howell and neither of the two stars had any expectations of success this week.

While the Ulsterman has not played since pulling out of the Houston Open three weeks ago to return to his wife’s side – he was only two off the lead at the time – Howell has been out of action for a month with back trouble.

However, after Clarke’s three-putt opening bogey, both did far better than their worst fears.

Clarke birdied the 12th, 13th, 15th and 17th, while Europe’s Order of Merit leader Howell kept a bogey off his card on the inward half and was one under thanks to a birdie at the long 15th.

Playing just ahead of them, Colin Montgomerie had birdies on the 13th and 17th, but in between ran up a bogey six on the 15th. Off a fine drive he was bunkered in two, came out on the wrong tier on the green and then three-putted.

Kenneth Ferrie, just behind Casey in the Ryder Cup standings, was another to get to three under, but like Clarke the difficult 18th caught him out.

Ferrie’s approach looked to have made it onto the right level, but just failed to make it up the ridge and then rolled back down to the very front of the green, around 100 feet from the flag.

He was so far away that as he lined up his putt his caddie took out the flagstick and waved it at him.

The European Open champion went racing 20 feet past and three-putted for a bogey five.

The later starters included Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and defending champion Thomas Bjorn.

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