McGowan makes the right impression

England's Ross McGowan equalled the lowest round of his brief European Tour career today and shares the lead after the first round of the Italian Open in Milan.

England's Ross McGowan equalled the lowest round of his brief European Tour career today and shares the lead after the first round of the Italian Open in Milan.

The 26-year-old from Surrey, who has already made it into the world's top 100 in the early stages of this his first full season, returned an eight under par 64 to be alongside Paraguay's Marco Ruiz.

On a day of low scoring American John Daly bounced back from his missed cut at last week's Spanish Open with a 67 - he actually led midway through his round - while Ryder Cup hopeful Nick Dougherty, playing just two days after his mother's funeral, managed a 71.

Runner-up on the "second division" Challenge Tour after two wins last year, 2006 English amateur champion McGowan had four successive birdies from the 13th as he turned in a superb 30.

Two more birdies in his last four holes completed his day's work - and prompted playing partner and former Ryder Cup star Peter Baker to say: "That's the best display of driving I've since Greg Norman and Ian Woosnam."

McGowan commented: "On the important holes you have to drive well, but I also holed out well from 10 feet and in.

"The next goal is to try to secure my card for next season, then I'll take it from there."

Ruiz is ranked only 410th in the world, but won in Argentina in December and was leading for a while in Seville last Sunday before slipping back to 15th.

Another Paraguayan, Fabrizio Zanotti, is also in the top 10 after a 66 and they are further examples of how a tiny golfing nation - just six courses - can still pack a punch.

Carlos Franco has won four times in America, Julieta Granada and Celeste Troche won the women's World Cup last year and there was also the occasion when Scotland lost to them in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews.

Colin Montgomerie famously said on the eve of that clash: "If we lose to them we might as well go home."

Dougherty, who chose to play this week because he knows his mother wanted him to, said before his first round that he might score "67 or 87".

The 25-year-old from Liverpudlian was glad it was far closer to the former than the latter, but he may well need a 69 tomorrow just to survive the halfway cut.

"I felt a bit emotional on the first tee and it was tough," he said. "It's just a weird feeling. I felt a bit cloudy all day.

"I've got to get on with it, though, because she will get in a huff. She will be gutted by that today."

Daly was delighted to have shown some improvement in his game at long last, having made it through to the weekend in only two of his 10 events in America this season and having failed in Seville as well.

The 42-year-old former Open champion, who has slumped to 609th in the world, underwent stomach surgery a month ago and added: "This is the healthiest I've been in more than a year - it was brutal with the pain and it's nice to have my swing back."

He had five birdies in six holes around the turn, dropped a shot at the sixth - his 15th - but finished by getting up and down from a bunker for yet another birdie.

McGowan and Ruiz lead by a stroke from World Cup-winning Scot Marc Warren, England's Mark Foster and South African Hennie Otto.

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