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Coetzee feels in good shape with share of French lead


George Coetzee
George Coetzee

By Steve Simpson

South African George Coetzee and New Zealand's Ryan Fox claimed a share of the lead after the first round of the French Open yesterday as the European Tour returned to Le Golf National a year after it hosted the Ryder Cup.

The leading duo fired six-under-par 65s to edge ahead on a kind day for scoring, with World No.128 Fox missing a good birdie chance on the final green as darkness started to close in.

The scene could not have differed more from just over 12 months ago.

The grandstands were gone and there was a low-key feel to an opening day, watched by only a smattering of spectators, of a tournament which has lost some of its allure this week after being pushed from its usual spot at the start of July and removed from the lucrative Rolex Series.

French player Benjamin Hebert said: "Today was a bit quiet. Thursday is normal. It's okay."

Defending champion Alex Noren is the highest-ranked player in the field at 53rd and the only man who also featured in the Ryder Cup, so organisers will be relieved that the event will be returning to its regular slot next year, albeit reportedly in southern France.

The 33-year-old Coetzee played the front nine in five-under, while a bogey on the penultimate green was his only blemish.

Coetzee has managed only one top-five finish so far this season - tied-second behind compatriot Justin Harding at the Qatar Masters in March - but thinks he is starting to find the form which helped him climb to a career-high 41st ranking in 2013.

He has since slipped to his current mark of 289th.

"It's nice to be in the mix again. It's been kind of a hard, long year, but feels like the game is coming along nicely," the four-time European Tour winner said after taking advantage of the early conditions, despite the morning gloom. "It was weird playing in the dark. If I was a cricketer, they would have called it off.

"The course is in amazing nick. Dark and light doesn't really make a difference when the course is as good as it is."

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