Date: March 28, 2008

Millar starts strongly

Matthew Millar has kicked off the Andalucia Open at Aloha in style with a five-under par first round of 67 to trail clubhouse leader Lee Westwood by two strokes. Millar, who started on the 10th tee, chalked up a total of six birdies – four of which coming on his first six holes – and a bogey to sit in outright fourth position after day one. Westwood has high hopes of going into The Masters with another win under his belt after starting his title defence of the Spanish tournament with a seven-under-par 65. But two of Europe&aposs young guns – one of them the world&aposs number one amateur playing his first Tour event – are chasing Westwood hard. Sheffield&aposs Danny Willett, the 20-year-old son of a clergyman, came in with a 66 after two eagles in the first seven holes of his debut, while 18-year-old Ulsterman Rory McIlroy, only six months into his professional career, showed his rich promise again with a 68 when the wind was much stronger after lunch. It was a good day too for Jose Maria Olazabal on his return from seven months out battling rheumatic pains. Worried for his future at the end of last year, the double Masters champion returned a 71 which he claimed was “better than I expected”. Westwood did not register a bogey after deciding to fly back from America to defend the title and then return across the Atlantic for The Masters in two weeks&apos time. He began and finished with 18-foot putts and had five more birdies in between. Course management was key, just as it will be at Augusta, and Westwood, looking to stretch his lead in the Ryder Cup points race, commented: “I&aposve always been pretty good at that.” “It&aposs common sense really – but nobody ever said that everybody on the European Tour had common sense.” “I&aposve got one eye on The Masters, but I didn&apost fancy another two-week stint in the States and nothing beats winning for confidence.” Westwood was back playing with his Ryder Cup partner Darren Clarke, but the Ulsterman mixed an eagle and three birdies with four bogeys and a double bogey. That added up to a one-over 73, and Clarke revealed afterwards that he had blisters on both feet caused by a pair of new shoes. “Don&apost call me stupid because I know I&aposm stupid,” he said. “I played like a part-time professional and part-time 10-handicapper.” Willett, joint second with Norwegian Jan-Are Larsen after the first round, has a plus-five handicap, is the reigning English champion, was a Walker Cup team-mate of McIlroy last September and his recent win in the Spanish Amateur took him to the top of the world rankings. An invitation to play this week&aposs event quickly followed that and he said: “I was quite nervous, but starting with a 25-foot eagle putt took a lot of the nerves out of the way.” “I proved to myself I can play a professional golf course and play well.” Almost a year ago in Portugal, Spaniard Pablo Martin became the first amateur ever to win on the European Tour, so does Willett think he can emulate him? “I was joking about it before coming here. You never know – it&aposs always in the back of your mind, but you can&apost think about it on the course,” he said. Willett has his fireman brother Matthew as his caddie and when asked if his father, a vicar at Christ Church in Hackenthorpe, ever carried his bag he replied: “He used to, but he stopped after telling me to hit through some trees. I took about 10.” His second eagle came on the 526-yard 16th courtesy of a four-iron to three feet, and he was alongside Westwood on seven under before pushing his last tee shot behind a tree and bogeying. McIlroy, whom Willett beat in the second round of the British Amateur last June, was happy to show some form again after three successive missed cuts in Dubai, Malaysia and South Korea. Leading amateur at last year&aposs Open, the teenager quickly posted third and fourth-place finishes to secure a Tour card after turning professional in September. On his recent lean spell he said: “I knew I was close and that it was only a matter of time before I started producing the scores.” “I&aposm not surprised Danny&aposs up there. I practised with him on Tuesday and from 130 yards in he was stiffing it. Maybe he can do a &aposPablo.&apos” Welshman Bradley Dredge, who needs to win on Sunday to climb into the world&aposs top 50 and grab a spot in The Masters, shot 70, while Swede Peter Hanson, who has the same target, had to settle for a level-par 72. Round One results from the Andalucia Open, Aloha, Spain -7: Lee Westwood 65 -6: Jan-Are 66, Danny Willett 66 -5: Matthew Millar (Australia) 67 -4: Emanuele Canonica 68, Christian Cevaer 68, Maarten Lafeber 68, Damien McGrane 68, Rory McIlroy 68 -3: Gregory Bourdy 69, David Drysdale 69, Mark Foster 69, Peter Hedblom 69, Michael Jonzon 69, Thomas Levet 69, Alexander Noren 69, Henrik Nystrom 69, Juan Parron 69, Florian Praegant 69, Carl Suneson 69 Also: -1: Gareth Paddison (New Zealand) 71