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Jean Van de Velde challenging in France

Part-timer Jean Van de Velde was a surprise contender in the French Open first round on Thursday.

The 44-year-old Frenchman has given up playing full-time on the European Tour but showed his old flair in a five-under-par round of 66 to lie second, three strokes behind Robert Jan Derksen of the Netherlands.

Van de Velde, twice a tour winner but best known for his dramatic late collapse to lose the 1999 British Open, plays only a handful of events these days at the end of a career blighted by injury and illness.

“I came here with no expectation, so that takes off the pressure, but I know the course like the back of my hand,” Van de Velde told reporters.

“I’m playing only six or seven events a year, just ones that I enjoy playing. There are two tournaments I would like to play for the rest of my life, the French Open and the British Open.”

Van de Velde has nearly won both. He lost a playoff for this title in 2005 to compatriot Jean-Francois Remesy. In 1999 his triple-bogey on the final hole at Carnoustie allowed Briton Paul Lawrie to snatch the British Open title in a playoff.

If Van de Velde won the tournament he would automatically earn a spot in this month’s British Open at St Andrews.

Twice tour winner Derksen produced a flawless card as he tries to lift a modest season in which he lies 74th on the order of merit.

The Dutchman, who last won five years ago, earned top spot with a run of four birdies in five holes from the 14th.

“I’ve struggled to get used to the new grooves in new clubs,” the leader told Reuters. “But things have been improving recently and my putting was really on today.”

German defending champion Martin Kaymer was on course to make it back-to-back wins after a 66 to share second place with Van de Velde and Spaniard Alejandro Canizares.

Lee Westwood’s painful calf muscle and ankle, which nearly caused him to pull out, affected him later in his round of 70.

“My ankle started to swell up again and I think I’ve got an injury in there somewhere,” the British world number three told reporters.

“What it needs is rest and I’ll be giving it that for two weeks after the (British) Open.

Colin Montgomerie decided to forego painkilling injections in favour of compression socks to protect his troublesome calf muscle as he posted a 73.

The Ryder Cup captain announced that he will reveal his vice-captains on July 20, two days after the British Open finishes.

Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal’s first round of the year ended with a quintuple-bogey nine as the double U.S. Masters champion, troubled with rheumatism for nearly two years, slumped to an 82.

Scores

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