From Brian Keogh in Cologne
Paul McGinley got a rude awakening on his return to European Tour action after a month’s holiday as playing partner Lee Westwood blasted his way to an amazing, 11-under par 61 in the first round of the Mercedes-Benz Championship at Gut Larchenhof in Cologne.
The 40-year-old Dubliner showed signs of rust as he mixed six birdies with four bogeys in a two-under par opening 70 and had he been playing without anyone other than Westwood, it wouldn’t have seem like a bad return.
Unfortunately for McGinley, his ISM stablemate played with the precision of a well-oiled machine, obliterating a three-putt bogey at the fourth with an eagle and ten birdies as he equalled the lowest round of his 14-year career
"Lee just played super today," McGinley said. "He holed a massive footage of putts but he also played very well from tee-to-green. It's always nice to play with a guy who is on fire, and Lee was really on fire today.
"I played alright but I made some mistakes. I've had a month off and coming back to competitive golf is a big jump, you know. Lee's been playing great the last two or three weeks with top fives and that's what happens - you go bang, bang, bang."
Westwood finished the day four shots clear of Dane Soren Hansen with sponsor's invite John Daly, Swede Niclas Fasth and England's Simon Dyson five behind after rounds of 66.
Out in 32 with five birdies and one bogey, Westwood parred the first two holes on the back nine before going into overdrive.
Birdies at the 12th and 13th put him six under par before he chipped in from 40 feet for an eagle at the 15th and then closed with a birdie hat-trick in a back nine 29, rounding off his virtuoso performance by holing an 18 footer at the last
The Ryder Cup star missed just two greens and after taking 24 putts he was glad he fished an old mallet putter out of the 200-strong collection in his garage.
"I made more putts today outside 15 feet than I have in the past two weeks, so that show’s how bad I’ve been putting," Westwood said as he munched an apple in the media centre. "I’ve got a big collection of putters in my garage. Put it this way, I’ve so many, there’s no room for a car in there."
Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke finished the day tied for 16th place on three-under par after carding contrasting rounds of 69.
While McDowell struggled to the turn in one over par, mixing two bogeys and a careless double bogey with three birdies, he stormed home in 32, the highlight coming at the par-five 15th, where he hit a five-iron to 15 feet.
“I played good, made some mistakes and putted like a man possessed,” McDowell said. “Looking at Lee on 11 under par I knew I had to get into the 60s and I was happy that I managed to do that."
Clarke was a 12-inch putt away from carding a four-under par 68 but his par effort horse-shoed out and he left the scorer’s hut with a smile that appeared to belie darker thoughts.