Dougherty an unlikely leader at European Masters

Englishman Nick Dougherty took a under 63 on round lead of the European Masters.

Miserable may not even adequately describe Dougherty's 2011 campaign.

He has missed every single cut this season, 20 in all, and hasn't cashed a check since November. Dougherty is a three-time former winner on the European Tour and the 2002 Rookie of the Year.

As bad as 2011 has been, it's not like 2010 was much better.

Dougherty didn't register a single top 10 last season, so Thursday's 63 was all the more unexpected.

"There wasn't a trace of positivity at times," Dougherty said of his recent play. "I obviously needed to go through something. The lesson was a long time coming. Missing cuts makes it worse, especially when you miss that many because people are conscious. Everyone knows.

"Hopefully, I can build on this."

Dougherty certainly can't rest quite yet, not with the men below him on the leaderboard.

World No. 5 Martin Kaymer and world No. 6 and reigning U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy headline a group tied for second place at six-under 65.

"I hit a lot of good golf shots today," said Kaymer, who birdied his last two holes on Thursday. "It's still nice to start with a great round."

For McIlroy, this was his first appearance since his wrist injury at the PGA Championship.

"To go out there and produce a good score like that gives me a lot of confidence not just this week, but the remainder of the season," said McIlroy.

Sung Lee and Gary Boyd joined the highly-ranked stars in second at the beautiful Crans-sur-Sierre layout.

Alejandro Canizares and Irish Open winner Simon Dyson are knotted in sixth place, but the group in eighth is almost as impressive and those tied for second.

World No. 2 Lee Westwood, Open champion Darren Clarke and former U.S. Open winner Michael Campbell are a part of the logjam at four-under 67.

But Dougherty was the story of round one.

He began on the 10th tee Thursday and birdied his first hole. Dougherty closed out his first side in style with three birdies in his last four holes to make the turn at four-under par.

Dougherty continued his fine form on the second nine with birdies at one and three. He nearly holed a 65-footer for birdie at the fourth, but settled for par.

Dougherty reached the green with his drive at the par-four seventh and narrowly missed his eagle try. He tapped in for birdie and was alone in first at seven-under par.

After a par at No. 8, Dougherty found the fairway at the par-five ninth, but hit a horrendous second shot so far right, it landed on the adjacent 10th fairway. He hit a great third shot that spun back to four feet and holed the birdie putt for the two-shot cushion.

"I didn't hit the ball brilliantly today," said Dougherty. "I hit it good, but I can hit it better, so it's a work in progress."

Richard McEvoy, Jaco Van Zyl and Jeev Milkha Singh joined Westwood, Clarke and Campbell in eighth.

NOTES: Defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez shot a one-under 70 on Thursday...Last week's five-man playoff winner Thomas Bjorn had a three-under 68 in round one...This is the first qualifying tournament for the 2012 European Ryder Cup team...Sven Struver withdrew on Thursday.