June 29, 2006

New putter pays off for Campbell at French Open

By Norman Dabell

SAINT QUENTIN, France (Reuters) - Michael Campbell's
decision to ditch the putter he used to win the 2005 U.S. Open
paid dividends on Thursday when he shot 65 in the first round
of the French Open.

The New Zealander's six-under total put him two strokes
behind leader John Bickerton of Britain.

"I changed my putter for the first time in two years,"
Campbell said. "The putter I used to win the U.S. Open and the
World Matchplay last year has been rested.

"Today I found it so much easier to align the ball. I've
had a frustrating couple of months with the putter but today I
hit 17 greens and this time took only 30 putts.

"Putting is the most important part of the game. Tiger
Woods is a good example of that."

Campbell said he would use his old putter again sometime --
he took only 10 putts for his last nine holes at Pinehurst last
year when he held off Woods to win the U.S. Open.

His defense of that major title ended in a missed cut at
Winged Foot two weeks ago.

"My mind was too bogged down with defending the U.S. Open.
Today it was finally free," he said.

Bickerton's round was also down to improved putting as last
year's Canaries Open winner equaled his career-low round of 63.

The 36-year-old Englishman changed his stance on the greens
after "a flash of inspiration" while practicing the day before.

Sweden's Joakim Backstrom was lying third, three off the
lead, after fading to a 66.

While 46-year-old American Bobby Clampett marked his return
to Europe after 19 years with a 71, 49-year-old Seve
Ballesteros's latest comeback went badly.

Ballesteros struggled around the turn, dropping 10 strokes
in five holes to card an 81, but the five-time major champion,
who has won this event four times, remained upbeat after
playing his last eight holes level-par.

"My finish gave me a lot of encouragement and I'm sure
things will be a lot better tomorrow," the Spaniard said.

Tournament favorite David Howell came home in 42 shots for
a 78, quadruple-bogeying the last by twice going into the lake.

Howell played alongside Jean Van de Velde (69), the man
famous for his collapse at Carnoustie's final hole in 1999 to
lose the British Open, who last year also found the water at
the same 18th in a playoff, to miss out to compatriot
Jean-Francois Remesy for their national title.

Double French Open winner Remesy, who has missed 10
successive cuts since February, had a 68.