Date: August 14, 2008

Fowler fires in Sweden

Australian Peter Fowler&aposs bid to become the oldest-ever winner on the European Tour circuit got off to a good start in the opening round of the SAS Masters in Stockholm. The 49-year-old shot a three-under-par 67 to be in a share of fourth spot six others including compatriot Terry Pilkadaris and trail leaders Nick Dougherty, Peter Hanson and Pedro Linhart by a stroke. Fowler got off to a shaky start with a bogey at the 3rd hole but he regained his composure to rattle off five birdies in the next nine holes before conceding another bogey at the 13th. Pilkadaris also enjoyed a solid start to the tournament as he too registered five birdies and two bogeys on his way to an opening round of 67. Meanwhile, Dougherty has re-ignited his challenge to be part of Nick Faldo&aposs Ryder Cup team next month. Ever since his mother died after a heart attack in April, the 26-year-old from Liverpool has understandably struggled for focus, not even managing a top-50 finish in his last seven starts. But an opening four-under-par 66 in Stockholm – the event in which he was joint runner-up last year – has enabled Dougherty to see light at the end of the tunnel. “It keeps the dream alive,” he said after taking a share of the lead with Hanson and Linhart in a round where the highlight was a 142-yard wedge on the downwind 12th which flew straight into the cup for an eagle two. Dougherty led the points table on winning the Dunhill Links title at St Andrews last October, but is down to 15th with this event and only two more counting tournaments to come. To Dougherty&aposs great surprise, ninth-placed Oliver Wilson and 10th-placed Soren Hansen are taking this week off after missing the cut, like him, in last week&aposs US PGA and so Faldo&aposs prodigy can move right onto their heels by winning on Sunday (Swedish time). “I&aposve not played a good round in what feels like forever, but I played some really, really great golf there,” he added, having begun with a 30-foot par-saving putt and having kept a bogey off his card in the strong wind and showers. “A few weeks ago my mind was somewhere else and it was driving me insane, but you&aposve got to turn the corner somewhere, so hopefully this is where it starts.” “It should have been a fantastic year, but it&aposs turned into a horrid one on and off the course for me and my family.” “It would have been the easiest thing to say I&aposm not going to bother, but my mum wanted me to do everything I could to make the Ryder Cup.” “If I don&apost, I won&apost feel disappointed with myself. I&aposve done what I can and playing badly after what&aposs happened is fully acceptable.” Dougherty considers himself way down the list of possible wild cards – Faldo has two to hand out on August 31 – and sees the final countdown in simple terms. “I&aposve just got to play great,” he commented. Hanson, trying to be the first home winner of the title since Jesper Parnevik a decade ago, covered the front nine in a four-under 30 to catch Dougherty. Linhart, 219th on the Order of Merit and 1276th in the world, then made it a three-way tie with two closing birdies on the front nine. German Martin Kaymer, 11th in the Ryder Cup race and with a chance to leap to eighth, had a one-under 69, as did Paul McGinley, who resigned as a vice-captain to Faldo hoping to make the team, but is down in 28th spot in the standings. American DJ Trahan, among the leading candidates for one of Paul Azinger&aposs four wild cards, managed only a three-over 73 after accepting an invitation to play. “It would normally upset me more, but my head was not in it – it felt like jetlag,” he said. “I played very poorly, but I still feel good about tomorrow.” The professional debut of Bristol 20-year-old Chris Wood, a superb fifth at The Open last month, brought a level-par 70. The group only one behind Dougherty, Hanson and Linhart includes four of the European Tour&aposs most experienced members – Scotland&aposs Gary Orr, English pair Paul Broadhurst and Peter Baker and Fowler. Aussie Scott Barr (two-under) is a shot behind Fowler and Pilkadaris in equal 11th position while compatriots Matthew Millar (one-over), Peter O&aposMalley (four-over), Marcus Fraser (five-over) and Wade Ormsby (five-over) all had rough starts to the competition. SAS Masters, Stockholm -4: Nick Doughty 66, Peter Hanson 66, Pedro Linhart 66 -3: Peter Baker 67, Paul Broadhurst 67, Robert-Jan Derksen, 67, Martin Erlandsson 67, Peter Fowler (Australia) 67, Gary Orr 67, Terry Pilkadaris (Australia) 67 -2: Felipe Aguilar 68, Scott Barr (Australia) 68, Magnus Carlsson 68, Jamie Donaldson 68, Gareth Paddison (New Zealand) 68, Jesper Parnevik 68, Patrik Sjoland 68, Marc Warren 68 Also: +1: Matthew Millar (Australia) 71 +2: Steve Alker (New Zealand) 72 +4: Peter O Malley (Australia) 74 +5: Marcus Fraser (Australia) 75)