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VERSAILLES, France (AP)—France’s Jean Van de Velde shot a 5-under 66 to take a share of the early first-round lead at the French Open on Thursday.
Van de Velde, playing only his second event on the European Tour this year, carded a bogey-free round to join Germany’s Martin Kaymer and Alejandro Canizares of Spain at the top of the leaderboard at Le Paris National.
One shot behind the three early leaders was New Zealand’s Danny Lee, who was also bogey free as he shot a 67, with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy further back on 3 under.
Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Colin Montgomerie and Matteo Manassero, who all missed Wednesday’s pro-am through illness or injury, recovered in time to take part in the first round.
Van de Velde earned a place in golfing folklore in 1999 when he blew a three-shot lead on the final hole of The British Open at Carnoustie, handing victory to Scotland’s Paul Lawrie.
In recent years, a series of injuries have forced him to cut down his playing schedule while he develops a career working in various branches of the media.
Before his first round in Versailles, his only previous appearance on the European Tour this year had been at the Ballantine’s Championship in Korea in April, where he missed the cut.
Van De Velde, who made five birdies Thursday, said local knowledge had been crucial in compiling his score.
“This course has a special place in my heart,” said the 44-year-old Frenchman.
“I have played it so often that I must have played shots from every part of the course, some of which you should not visit. I also had a bit of luck, but was also helped by the fact that I came with no expectation having played so little golf. But to shoot a score like this in the French Open is very special.”
England’s Westwood declared himself fit to participate, a day after being taken to hospital with swelling in his calf and ankle. Compatriot Poulter had been a doubt with an infected insect bite in his groin while European Ryder Cup captain Montgomerie had been struggling with a calf injury.
--By GRAHAM OTWAY, Associated Press Writer