NEWPORT, Wales – South African journeyman Keith Horne led the Wales Open after shooting a 7-under 64 in the opening round Thursday, with defending champion Graeme McDowell trailing by three strokes at Celtic Manor.
Horne made birdies on five of the last eight holes on his Wales Open debut, his 100th tournament on the European Tour since 2000. He shot 30 on the back nine of the links course.
Horne turned pro at 25 and turns 40 next week. He secured his European Tour card last year and is still seeking his first tour win.
"The golf course was playing as easy as it's going to play," said the 289th-ranked Horne. "The front nine was pretty tough because it was a bit cold and the ball wasn't going that far. The pins were pretty difficult on the front nine, too.
"Once I started to warm up myself and make a few birdies, I actually really enjoyed the back nine."
Ryder Cup player Peter Hanson was second after making four straight birdies from No. 14 in shooting a 65. The Swede was followed by English pair Steve Webster and Paul Broadhurst plus Alvaro Velasco of Spain, who all shot 66.
McDowell, Hanson's playing partner, was next in a group of six. He eagled the par-4 No. 15 with a 30-foot putt. But he failed with a birdie attempt at the next, the same hole where his 20-footer clinched victory over Hunter Mahan in the Ryder Cup last October.
"I guess I've used all my magic up on that green," McDowell said. "Overall, I'm very happy with the way I played. The course is running pretty fast and firm, so it's playing reasonably short. The greens are not as good as I've seen them here at Celtic Manor. The greens are very receptive and very soft and there's quite a lot of growth on them, so they are tough to putt on.
"Generally, very happy with 4-under par, very happy with the way I struck the ball and there were a lot of good things, a lot of positives out there."
John Daly made four bogeys on the front nine and two on the back in a 77.
Elliot Saltman of Scotland, who completed a three-month ban from the European Tour last month for marking his ball incorrectly, had a hole-in-one at No. 17. He followed it up with an eagle in a round of 73, the same score as his brother Lloyd.
McDowell won the U.S. Open champion after a victory at the Wales Open last year. Despite missing the cut at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last week, the Northern Irishman is mostly pleased with his game.
"I feel like I've got a better understanding for my golf swing and what I'm trying to do with it," McDowell said. "I can see my way around the golf course now. I was really happy with that ball flight, to see that coming back into my game was nice, and I drove the ball really solidly today as well."
Hanson, McDowell, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ross Fisher are the only Ryder Cup players in the field, although captain Colin Montgomerie and vice captains Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn are also playing.
Fisher failed to come through qualifying for the U.S. Open on Monday. He needs to play well at Celtic Manor if he is to regain a place in the top 50 and win a place at the tournament on Washington's Congressional course from June 16-19.
The Englishman rallied from bogeys at No. 12 and No. 13 with birdies in three of the last four holes in a 70, including at the last where his long eagle putt stopped just before the cup.
Jimenez shot a 73, while Montgomerie signed for a 77 only four days after his first top-10 finish in almost three years, when he finished joint seventh at the BMW PGA Championship.