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Nick Dougherty in dramatic return to form
September 1, 2011

While a host of leading world-ranked players fought it out in the European Masters opening round on Thursday, Briton Nick Dougherty came in under the radar to lead the field.

In a dramatic change in fortunes, Dougherty resuscitated his career after a miserable two years with a spectacular eight-under-par 63.

That earned him a two-shot lead over U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, 2010 U.S. PGA winner Martin Kaymer, Briton Gary Boyd and little-known Sung Lee of South Korea.

World number two Lee Westwood and British Open champion Darren Clarke were a further two strokes back.

Triple tour winner Dougherty's career started to nosedive soon after he won the 2009 BMW International and last year the 29-year-old Englishman missed the cut 12 times.

This season it has been even worse -- he has not made one cut in 20 appearances.

Dougherty attributed his sudden transformation to "going back to fundamentals" with a new coach, Welshman Stuart Morgan, and plenty of encouragement.

That included his wife, television golf presenter Di Dougherty who had the happy task of interviewing her husband after his round.

"My wife's been a rock to me," a delighted Dougherty told reporters after chalking up eight birdies on a flawless card, two from chip-ins.

"She's had to sit there with me when I've said 'that's me done, I can't do it any more, I can't find my way back'. She kept reminding me what I'd done before and that it would come back.

"I have to be prepared for it to still not be plain-sailing but I had nothing before today," Dougherty added.

German Kaymer, who took a lengthy break on a hiking holiday to freshen up his game after a disappointing defence of his U.S. PGA title last month, and Briton McIlroy said they were being driven by a desire to improve their world rankings.

"I came here when I heard how strong the field would be and that there would be a lot of ranking points," said former world number one Kaymer who is now fifth.

"I've lost a few spots in the last few weeks and I thought if I could win then I maybe could jump up the rankings again."

Kaymer might surge to third with the right results in Crans, as could McIlroy.

"I'm sixth at the moment and I want to get higher," the Northern Irishman said. "I want to move back up the ladder and get a little closer to Luke (world number one Donald)."

Westwood recovered from an early double-bogey with two eagle-twos in three holes, a drive to three feet on the fifth and a chip-in on seven. But he marred his round by bogeying the last two holes.

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