Former PGA Championship winner Shaun Micheel is hoping a change in putter will help end a nine-year winless drought after posting a five-under 67 on a rain-lashed first day of the 100th Spanish Open.
Micheel, ranked 608th in the world, led by one stroke on Thursday after eight birdies and a bogey on the last hole in extremely difficult conditions on the Real de Golf de Sevilla course.
“It was just a battle of attrition out there today,” Micheel said. “I played in the pro-am Wednesday and couldn’t manage one birdie, so I changed my putter to an Odyssey XG-7 center shaft and managed to hole eight birdies today. It’s the first time in two years I’ve tried a new putter and I also put the ball more forward in my stance to get more loft, and the combination seemed to work well.”
The trio of Spain’s Jorge Capillo and the England pair of Robert Rock and Danny Willett were tied in second place with scores of 68.
The Memphis-based Micheel is competing on the European Tour under a 10-year exemption from winning the 2003 PGA Championship, his last victory.
He is also balancing invitations on the USPGA Tour in an effort to regain full membership after forfeiting full playing rights at the end of last year. He has contested six US tour events this season and made the cut in five to lie 168th on the money list.
Micheel, who played in the company of fellow major champions Rich Beem (78) and Michael Campbell (75), called on Spanish Open officials to reduce the height of the US Open-like rough, given the forecast for continued poor weather.
“The rough is very penal and I am rather surprised at the length given the weather we knew we were expecting this week,” he said. “Organizers could still go out there and trim another inch or two, and it would still be a tough challenge.”
Rock, who beat Tiger Woods in the Abu Dhabi Championship this year, capped his round with two eagles in four holes over his outward nine.
Rock hit a four-iron to within six feet at the par-five 13th and holed the putt, then landed an eight-iron to 25 feet at the par-five 16th and sank the putt.
However, the bearded Englishman sandwiched a 14th-hole double-bogey.
“The first eagle was the more pleasing as it was a harder second shot, but then I made a silly error on 14 trying to get out of a fairway bunker,” Rock said. “But it was nice then to get those two dropped shots back at 16.”
Rock is determined to cement a place in next month’s US Open and avoid the drama he faced last year when arriving at Congressional only on the very eve of the event.
“I’ve got this week, next fortnight’s Volvo Match Play Championship, and then the BMW PGA at Wentworth to cement my place inside the top 60 and qualify for the US Open,” said Rock, ranked 60th. “And after the rush in having to get a visa and not have any practice rounds, it will be nice to go to San Francisco and prepare properly for the US Open.”
The biggest disappointment of the day was the effort of Scot Paul Lawrie, who made a quadruple-bogey and a double-bogey in a round of six-over 78.