Date: April 04, 2008

Martin sets course record

After six European Tour events this season in which he has not broken 70, Spain&aposs Pablo Martin returned to the scene of his triumph – Oitavos Dunes in Portugal – on Thursday and shot a course-record 63. Australian Matthew Millar is five strokes adrift of the Spaniard on three under after he carded a first round of 68. Martin&aposs victory in the Portuguese Open at Oitavos Dunes last year made him the first amateur ever to win an event on the circuit. But now he is looking to emulate Aaron Baddeley at the Australian Open in 1999 and 2000 by following a triumph as an amateur with a successful defence as a professional. “I like this place it seems,” said Martin after grabbing his eighth birdie with a superlative seven-iron to 18 inches on the 474-yard last. That is the hole where Barry Lane collapsed to a quadruple-bogey nine when leading three years ago, but it holds no such fears for the Malaga golfer. “I would like to defend (the title) – it&aposs extra motivation,” he added. “I was pretty focused from the beginning.” The course record had been equalled earlier in the day by his compatriot Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, but Martin, who rediscovered form with a 21st-place finish at the US Tour&aposs Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, still had to wait to see if his new mark would be broken. That was because Frenchman Gregory Bourdy had eight birdies in a magical 11-hole stretch from the sixth and needed one more for a 62. But in the event he parred the last two for a share of both the lead and the record. Darren Clarke looked like being the story of the day when he played his first nine holes in a mere 30 strokes, adding a 25-foot eagle putt on the 16th to four earlier birdies. Three top 10s already this season have raised hopes of a real revival in the Ulsterman&aposs fortunes, but on this occasion he had to settle for a 68. After three-putting three times and also visiting the trees at the sixth with what he called his only bad drive of the round, he was asked if he was taking the positives out of his performance. “Not right now,” he said. “My game is fine, but I&aposm wasting shots – any momentum I am getting I am giving back.” Playing partner Simon Dyson, who shot 67, commented: “Darren was flying. It was a shame he three-putted the 18th (their 11th) because we could have witnessed something special.” “Until then he had not missed a shot and had not missed a putt – the hole must have looked like a dustbin.” David Howell and Paul McGinley, the other members of the 2006 Ryder Cup team who are playing in the event after failing to qualify for next week&aposs Masters, shot 67 and 69 respectively, while Oliver Fisher, beaten in a playoff by Thomas Levet in Spain last Sunday after leading by two with two holes to go, matched Clarke&aposs 68. Fernandez-Castano&aposs display would have come as no surprise to anybody who saw him in the eve-of-tournament pro-am – in which he returned a 62. “Last year it was difficult to hole putts,” he said. “This time the greens are in good shape – a bit slow, but it feels like Augusta compared to last year.” He was only one under after eight holes, but then had three birdies in four holes and finished with three more in a row. Yet another Spaniard, Jose Manuel Lara, came in with a 64 as well late in the day and England&aposs Simon Khan was on the same mark with two to play. As for 18-year-old Ulster boy wonder Rory McIlroy, he was two feet away from winning a BMW sports car on the 348-yard 11th. At the downhill par four it is on offer for a hole in one, and his marvellous three-wood shot gave him an eagle two. After 15 holes he stood four under. First Round Scores from the Portugal Open, Estoril -8: Gregory Bourdy 63, Pablo Martin 63 -7: Gonzalo Fdez-Castano 64, Michale Jonzon 64, Jose Manuel Lara 64 -6: Francois Delamontagne 65, Alastair Forsyth 65, James Kamte 65, Simon Khan 65, Charl Schwartzel 65 -5: Santiago Luna 66, Andrew Mclardy 66, Lee Slattery 66 -4: Peter Baker 67, Nuno Campino 67, Simon Dyson 67, Ben Evans 67, David Howell 67, Barry Lane 67, Thomas Levet 67, Stuart Manley 67 Also: -3: Matthew Millar (Australia) 68, Gareth Paddison (New Zealand) 68 +1: Peter Fowler (Australia) 72