French farce as four get chop at Open

FOUR players were thrown out of the French Open first round yesterday for taking incorrect penalty drops at the National course's final hole.

Australian Richard Green and 2007 winner Graeme Storm of England lead the tournament after rounds of six-under 65, but it was 2008 China Open winner Damien McGrane of Ireland, South African Jaco Van Zyl, Rikard Karlberg of Sweden, and Britain's James Ruebotham who made the headlines after being disqualified.

All four players sent balls into the lake at the 18th and then played from the wrong spot after taking a penalty. Because they left the recording area, unaware they had broken the rule, they were effectively disqualified for signing for a wrong score.

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Players had been informed of the correct way to drop the ball at 18 in sheets handed to them before play and on noticeboards.

"One player said he had read the notice explaining how to drop the ball correctly but forgot it and the other three said they had not read the notice," European Tour chief referee Andy McFee told reporters.

"This rule was in force last year and we didn't have one disqualification. I'm bemused."

McGrane held up his hands, saying: "I didn't read the notices and my caddie misinterpreted them."

The four disqualifications happened during morning rounds. Rules officials kept an eye on the afternoon field and prepared to advise players if they saw them taking wrong drops at 18.

McFee said he did not consider it unfair that the four disqualified players had not had the same advantage.

"Sometimes we have a referee on a hole, sometimes we don't," he said.

It was the greatest mass disqualification since 1990 when six players were dumped out in the first round of the AGF Open at La Grand Motte, Montpellier, for removing out-of-bound posts - considered immovable objects - to play their shots.

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Returning to the course where the 2018 Ryder Cup will be played, 2007 champion Storm is tied at the top of the leaderboard with Green. The 33-year-old's victory four years ago - from five behind with a round to go - is his only one in more than 250 European Tour starts.

"There's always added pressure when you come back," said the former British amateur champion, who was a Walker Cup team-mate of world No 1 Luke Donald and Paul Casey in 1999.

"People say you've won and you like the course. Don't get me wrong - it is fantastic to know you've done it - but you still have to put the work in."

Armed with a new driver and putter, Storm, currently ranked 258 places below Donald, did not drop a stroke and drew level when he birdied the 484-yard 17th while Green bogeyed it.

Both will be at The Open in a fortnight's time.Green earned an exemption for his 21st place on last year's European Tour money list, while Storm won the qualifier at Sunningdale three weeks ago after a brilliant 62.

South African George Coetzee, like Green, reached seven under after 14, but went into the lake on the 15th and bogeyed the 17th as well. That dropped the 24-year-old from Pretoria, joint third in Germany on Sunday, alongside Dane Thorbjorn Olesen and England's James Morrison.

Colin Montgomerie, seeking a top-five finish to earn a late spot into The Open at Sandwich after finishing last at the qualifying event, was two under with three to go, but bogeyed the seventh and three-putted the long ninth for a level-par 71.

Fife's Peter Whiteford was the best-placed Scot, three off the lead after a three-under 68 that included three birdies. Richie Ramsay shot a 69, Lloyd Saltman was on the same mark as Montgomerie, while David Drysdale, Gary Orr and George Murray all had a 73, and Scott Jamieson and Steven O'Hara were 11 shots off the paces after shooting 76s.

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American Bubba Watson, on a large appearance fee, had a disappointing start to his first regular European Tour event and the world No 12 said he may just stick to his home tour from now on - even though he is down to play next month's Scandinavian Masters the week after appearing in The Open. After double-bogeying the last for a 74, the powerful left-hander - runner-up in last year's US PGA Championship - said after being asked if he would be playing more on the European Tour: "I think this might be the only one. I miss my home."

Former winner Martin Kaymer, the highest-ranked player in the field at fourth, and defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez matched Montgomerie's 71 and so did Thomas Bjorn after 18 successive pars.