Date: September 12, 2008

Green leads Aussie charge

Robert Karlsson gave Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo some welcome good news with a first-round 67 in the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Cologne. Karlsson carded seven birdies and two bogeys at Gut Larchenhof to trail co-leaders Richard Finch and Jean-Francois Lucquin by a shot, easily the best display from the four team members on show in Cologne. Kiwi Michael Campbell leads the Australasian contingent at one-under, with Aussie Richard Green one stroke behind him. Stuart Appleby and Scott Strange sit at two-over, while New Zealand&aposs Mark Brown carded a four-over 76 to be nine strokes off the pace. Spain&aposs Miguel Angel Jimenez had six birdies but four bogeys and a double-bogey in a 72 matched by rookie Graeme McDowell, while Denmark&aposs Soren Hansen – the defending champion but another rookie – returned a 73. Karlsson, who made his cup debut in the record-equalling victory at the K Club in 2006, had been reported to be suffering from a neck injury after taking three weeks off. But the 6ft 5in Swede reiterated that those reports had been wide of the mark after instantly returning to the sort of form which has brought him nine top-10 finishes this season – including eighth in the Masters, fourth in the US Open and seventh in The Open. “I just took an extra week off after playing a lot of golf in the summer,” Karlsson said. “I never had any injury and had no treatment. I just enjoyed three weeks with my family, although the kids having chicken pox meant I did not have much time for practice last week!” “It would be nice to win but mainly I am here to get going again after three weeks off.” “I&aposm usually quite good at getting back quickly and I&aposm very happy to have another three days to play (there is no cut this week) after not playing for so long.” Finch has failed to match Karlsson&aposs consistency this season but has claimed two tournament victories after narrowly keeping his card at the end of last season. The 31-year-old Englishman only secured his playing rights by finishing seventh in the final event of 2007 but won the New Zealand Open in December and then added the Irish Open in May – despite memorably falling into a river while playing his third shot on the 72nd hole. “Even this morning I was looking at the scores from the first stage of the Qualifying School because I&aposve got a few friends in that, and I did think it might have been me this time last year,” Finch admitted after a round of eight birdies and two bogeys. “To be here instead and shoot a good score and be in with a chance is great.” “I try not to think about it but all of a sudden there are more demands on your time, different tournaments to play in and your goals change. I&aposve enjoyed it but as soon as you think golf is a great game and you&aposve cracked it you start playing like an idiot.” “I want to finish as high as I can up the Order of Merit to qualify for the majors next year, improve my world ranking and get into the top 100 (he is currently 146th). If you play well it all snowballs from there.” Lucquin won his first European Tour title in Switzerland on Sunday and is looking to complete rare back-to-back wins. “It&aposs unbelievable, since last week it&aposs been like a dream,” said the 29-year-old, who defeated Northern Ireland&aposs Rory McIlroy on the second play-off hole in Crans-sur-Sierre. “Today I missed maybe one shot, had a good pace on the greens and I&aposm very happy to make a good score. There&aposs a lot of good players here and I&aposd like to have a good finish here before my week off.” Meanwhile Paul McGinley would only comment briefly on former captain Bernhard Langer&aposs claim that Faldo was &aposmaking a mistake&apos by not having more assistants at Valhalla. Faldo originally selected McGinley and Jose Maria Olazabal as his assistants, only for McGinley to step down to concentrate on trying to qualify for the team. The Irishman subsequently failed to do so but Faldo decided not to reinstate him, preferring to &aposgather all the information myself, first-hand&apos. McGinley, after a 73, said: “It&aposs done and dusted and I&aposm not going and that&aposs the end of the story as far as I&aposm concerned.” “It&aposs not even a question. Nick was very clear in his press conference and it doesn&apost need to be discussed.” “I don&apost want to take away from Nick&aposs captaincy. He&aposs captain, he&aposs made his decisions, he&aposs laid it on the line and it&aposs important that I and everybody else steps back and lets the team get on with it.” “When it&aposs all over of course there&aposll be all kinds of &aposWhat went right, what went wrong?&apos whatever the case may be. But up until then I&aposm not getting drawn into any controversy.” Mercedes-Benz Championship, Germany Results from Round 1 (Par 72) -6: Richard Finch 66, Jean-Francois Lucquin 66 -5: Robert Karlsson 67 -4: Ross Fisher 68 -3: Peter Hanson 69, James Kingston 69 -2: Bernhard Langer 70, Paul Lawrie 70, Damien McGrane 70, Chapchai Nirat 70, Richard Sterne 70 -1: Felipe Aguilar 71, Michael Campbell (New Zealand) 71, David Frost 71, Maarten Lafeber 71, Prayard Marksaeng 71, Francesco Molinari 71, Phillip Price 71, Alvaro Quiros 71 Also: Par: Richard Green (Australia) 72 +2: Stuart Appleby (Australia) 74, Scott Strange (Australia) 74 +4: Mark Brown (New Zealand) 76