Players struggle at rain-soaked K Club

New US Open champion Angel Cabrera and four of Europe's Ryder Cup heroes last year found themselves being overshadowed when the spotlight fell back on the K Club near Dublin today.

New US Open champion Angel Cabrera and four of Europe's Ryder Cup heroes last year found themselves being overshadowed when the spotlight fell back on the K Club near Dublin today.

Dutchman Maarten Lafeber leads after squelching his way through the rain-soaked Smurfit Course - not the one on which the Americans were thrashed - to a six-under-par 64 when the European Open began.

That would normally be an eight-under 64 but after three weeks of heavy rain officials decided the 578-yard 18th was in no fit state for play and reduced it to a par three of 162 yards.

Forward tees were used at six other holes as well, cutting the overall length from 7,313 yards to 6,660, and preferred lies on the fairways are likely to be in operation all week because the balls are picking up so much mud.

Shortened it may have been, but easy it was not, with hardly any run at all and the five leading lights of the tournaments struggling to catching Lafeber.

David Howell, returning from a two-month double injury lay-off, and Colin Montgomerie had to settle for shooting 69s after closing bogeys during yet another shower, but that was still two better than Cabrera, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, who all had to cope with the stronger winds after lunch.

Irish Open champion Harrington, the highest-ranked player on view at 10th in the world, spoiled his day's work by double-bogeying the 16th.

The Dubliner had switched to a different driver after noticing on Tuesday evening that the graphite shaft of his favourite one had been damaged.

Not entirely happy with the replacement, he was tonight debating whether to go back to the original - despite its state - or change again.

"At 16, I thought it was a good tee shot and a decent second shot too," he said. "It was a pity - one under would have been a very good score. I don't know what happened to the driver, but something did."

Cabrera, making his first appearance since his Oakmont triumph, had a real topsy-turvy time.

He had a bogey and a double bogey in his first four holes, then birdied five of the next seven, then had further bogeys on the 12th, 16th and 17th - the hole where compatriot Andres Romero had holed-in-one and won himself a car 30 minutes earlier.

"I hit only four fairways," he said. "It had nothing to do with two weeks off. I just hit the ball bad."

McGinley, down at 158th in the world, described his six-birdie, seven-bogey 71 as "not good enough", adding: "That's the bottom line. It's frustrating - there were too many bad shots, too many bad decisions".

Montgomerie began the day laughing and joking with playing partners Howell and Michael Campbell - especially after the New Zealander accidentally trod on the line of their birdie attempts - but his mood had taken a turn for the worse just like the weather by the time he walked off the course.

He declined a request to speak to waiting reporters and turned down a lone autograph-hunter too.

Lafeber, who has had just one European Tour win in 235 starts, may have left the stars trailing in his wake, but he has only a one-stroke overnight lead.

England's Robert Rock, Indian Jyoti Randhawa, France's Gregory Havret and in-form Swede Niclas Fasth all returned 65s and defending champion Stephen Dodd would have done as well but for finishing with a bogey like Montgomerie and Howell.

Lafeber commented: "It's very tough. As soon as you go in the rough you're going to be plugged or in a really deep lie and struggling to get on the green.

"It's really a grind, but lucky enough I played well and the greens are fantastic."

He had only two birdies in his first nine holes, but then covered the front nine in 32, putting the icing on the cake when he chipped in for a two on the 179-yard eighth.

Fasth was the leading European in finishing fourth at the US Open and last time out won the BMW International Open in Munich two weeks ago.

The conditions were always unlikely to put off this most determined of competitors. He did, after all, play on frozen greens in sub-zero temperatures growing up.

Even a top-six finish this week could qualify him for a shot at the £1million first prize in October's HSBC World Match Play at Wentworth, but the winner's cheque on Sunday is now in his sights.

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