Karlsson finds special touch on greens

 

Robert Karlsson's mastery of the much-criticised Crans sur Sierre greens earned the tall Swede a one-shot lead in the European Masters opening round toady.

Karlsson used only 24 putts on his way to a nine-birdie, six-under-par, 65 to lead by a stroke from six-times major champion Nick Faldo, 1999 British Open Champion Paul Lawrie and compatriot Mathias Gronberg, European Masters winner in 1995.

Four birdies in the last five holes boosted Karlsson's score and he ended with a flourish, holing from 20 feet to move clear of the field after Lawrie bogeyed the last to deny himself a place on top of the leaderboard with Karlsson.

The 6ft 5ins Swede has switched coaches to try to improve his driving, but it was with his putter that 33-year-old Karlsson excelled, even though he is not a fan of the Seve Ballesteros remodelled greens.

Karlsson agreed with criticism handed out earlier in the day by the week's star attraction, world number three and British Open Champion Ernie Els. The South African, who had to settle for a 70, maintained that the revamped greens, which are shaped like upturned saucers, were not up to tour standard and should be redesigned.

Ballesteros remodelled them in 1998 and 1999 and there has been much criticism since.

Leader Karlsson, who had bettered today's score in 1997, when he carded a 64 to finish second just before the greens were reshaped, admitted he had had to ride his luck.

"I definitely needed a bit of luck out there," he said. "The way the pins were placed you are always going to miss a few greens when the ball kicks off the greens.

"I think they are unfair. It was a lot more fun to play the course before.

"It was an easy course, but just leave it like that and let players shoot a lot of low scores."

Els, following the line of compatriot Retief Goosen the day before, was more scathing, saying: "It's their design and their condition, I don't think it is up to tournament standard.

"They should just redesign them, I think. If you look at the way some of the holes are designed, the greens just don't fit the design at all, so that is probably the problem.

"They just went in there with one mindset for the greens, so that every green is the same - if you've got a three-iron or a sand-iron, you have the same green."

Joint second-placed Faldo won the event in 1983, way before a revamp was mooted. Asked for his opinion of the greens, he joked: "They are the finest cup-cakes you'll find in Crans. They are very small greens, a bit like Hilton Head.

"You can hit 20ft from the pin and miss the green."

Goosen, in a private battle with Els for the European number one spot this year, also shot 70, while Ronan Rafferty, the solitary Irish representative in Switzerland, carded a two-over 73..