Positive start for Ryder teammates

Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell did a lot better on Thursday on their return from playing in the Ryder Cup than Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie did on their return from watching it on television.

Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell did a lot better on Thursday on their return from playing in the Ryder Cup than Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie did on their return from watching it on television.

Westwood opened his defence of the Quinn Insurance British Masters at The Belfry with a four-under-par 68 to be only one behind leaders Marcus Fraser and Mikael Lundberg.

McDowell, the only other member of last week's losing team in Louisville to be playing in the £1.8m (€2.2m) event, had a 72, but Clarke crashed to an 80 and Montgomerie to an 81 - his worst score in Europe for over four years.

The 45-year-old Scot, who pulled out of the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Cologne two weeks ago with a shoulder injury, was paired with Westwood.

"He didn't have one of his greatest days," said the Worksop golfer.

"But the rough is thick, the course is demanding and if you miss the fairways it can get away from you very easily."

That did not happen to him, though.

"I felt a bit jet-lagged over the last four holes and my legs started to go a bit, but everything was pretty good.

"My fitness has a lot to do with that. There are no negatives to being fitter."

As well as wanting to retain the title Westwood is looking to close the gap on Padraig Harrington at the top of the Order of Merit.

"It was very special to win it (in 2000) and it would be great to do it again."

Australian Fraser, 115th on the money list and fully aware that only 115 players keep their cards at the end of the season, went to the turn in 31 early in the day.

By holding his position over the back nine the 30-year-old, just back from a trip back home to see his pregnant wife Carlie, set a clubhouse target which only Lundberg, the Swede who won the Russian Open for a second time in July, could match during the afternoon.

They are a stroke ahead of not only Westwood, but also fellow Englishman Sam Walker, Dane Anders Hansen and Argentina's Rafa Echenique.

Clarke's round included a quadruple-bogey eight on the 445-yard sixth, where he put two balls in the water.

"I don't dislike the course, but the only time I've really played well here is in the Ryder Cup," said the Ulsterman.

"That 80 was the absolute best I could do."

Chris Wood, the Bristol 20-year-old who turned professional after finishing fifth in The Open at Birkdale, also returned an 80 and that contained a 10 on the 384-yard 13th. Three drives went flying out of bounds there.

Fit-again Thomas Bjorn, meanwhile, ended a 10-week lay-off with a 69, then spoke about the Ryder Cup captaincy.

The Dane's view is more important than most because he is now chairman of the players' committee which is expected to make a decision early in the new year.

First of all, Bjorn ruled himself out.

"I'm 37. I've got to focus on my playing career. I don't think I was ever in the equation."

As for who takes over from Nick Faldo, he said there was no rush to name the man - and that in itself could bring down the odds on Faldo's assistant Jose Maria Olazabal.

On Sunday Olazabal said he wanted to be back playing in Wales in 2010, but that is dependent on him recovering both his health and his game.

If he continues to struggle for the next few months he might be the preferred choice ahead of Sandy Lyle.

"All doors are open for everybody at the moment. We'll come up with what we think is the right decision - some people might disagree and some people will agree. That's all we can do."

Bjorn has been out with a shoulder injury since the Scottish Open in early July and admitted he was concerned about things.

"It actually took five weeks before I started a little better," he said. "It just seemed to stay the same no matter what I did.

"I've had a lot of physiotherapy and a lot of rest. All in all I'm just glad it's better now - I didn't feel anything today."

He turned down the chance to commentate on the Ryder Cup because he thought it might hurt his preparation for this week, but still feared his rustiness might lead to a score in the high 70s.

Instead, however, he started with a birdie and went on to find four more.

"My short game has always been one of the greatest parts of my game, but it's left me a bit over the last couple of years. It was there today."

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