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Westwood fights back after awful start; Nilsson leads

ESPN staff
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Lee Westwood clawed his way back after a dreadful start on Thursday © Getty Images
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Christian Nilsson hit top form to establish a one-shot lead at the Alstom Open de France, while world No. 3 Lee Westwood overcame a dreadful start on day one to keep his title bid alive.

There were no thrills as Nilsson safely negotiated the opening two holes, but a birdie at the third galvanised the Swede into action. A hot streak followed: he picked up shots on six, seven and eight and, despite a bogey before the turn, he holed a further three birdies coming in to put himself top of the standings.

Nilsson, whose best finish to date this season is 38th, said: "I'm very happy. It's been a struggle this year for me so far, so I really needed this score today, and especially on this tough course. It's good for my confidence.

"I think the course plays quite tough even though it's calm conditions and beautiful weather, but still a tough course. I'm really pleased with six under par. I've been practising on things I believe in and just waiting for something to happen. It finally looks like it did."

Westwood, beginning on the back nine, found himself with a mountain to climb after a double bogey at the 15th left him reeling on four-over. It was imperative he hit back quickly and a birdie at his next hole gave him fresh optimism of salvaging a first round that looked destined for disaster.

The Englishman, refusing to panic, kept his nerve brilliantly and a hot putter saw him drain four more birdies as he continued his fightback for a one-under 70.

England's Gary Boyd and Italian teenager Matteo Manassero were the early clubhouse leaders after respective 66s. Boyd, a two-time runner-up since graduating from the Challenge Tour at the end of the 2009 season, showed some eye-catching early form when birding three of his first four holes. He picked up further shots at the ninth and 10th, before reeling off eight pars to end a morale-boosting day bogey-free.

Two-time European Tour winner Manassero also went round without dropping a shot, starting steadily before five birdies put him in a great position from which to build.

Thongchai Jaidee is alongside Boyd and Manassero on five-under, while David Lynn, Gonzalo Fdez-Castano and Federico Colombo are a shot further back on four-under after respective 67s.

Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer endured difficult days, the former stuttering to a one-over 72 and the latter faring one shot worse off. McDowell never got going, a double-bogey six putting him immediately on the back foot. His round came to life sporadically but too many errors meant he could not maintain his good passages of play. Kaymer was even more erratic, the 2010 US PGA champion leaving himself with a huge task ahead if he is to challenge for the title. Justin Rose was pegged back after a bright start but managed to head for the clubhouse level-par.

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