Westwood's blistering 61 puts him clear in Cologne

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COLOGNE, Germany, Sep 14 (Reuters) Briton Lee Westwood's exhilarating 11-under-par 61 s opening round of the Mercedes Benz Championship earned the former European number one a four-stroke lead over Dane Soren Hansen.

Westwood was only a stroke worse than the Gut Larchenhof course record as he picked up seven shots in the last seven holes and included an eagle and 10 birdies on his card.

Only a bogey on the short fourth prevented the 34-year-old Englishman equalling Swede Fredrik Jacobson's 2003 record. A vastly improved putting display saw Westwood equal his career-best return for 18 holes. His other 61 came when overwhelming Tiger Woods in the 1998 European TPC in Hamburg.

The 2000 European number one thought he was in for another miserable day on the greens when he three-putted the fourth bu his fortunes changed dramatically.

With his chipping touch paying dividends, Westwood ran in four birdies in five holes to the turn before launching a spectacular run home, highlighted by a chip-in eagle at the long 15th.

Advice on chipping from former tour pro Mark Roe, now a television pundit, has helped him, he said.

But to change his putting luck, Westwood decided on a mallett model from 160 putters he has in his garage, changed his stance to one he used 10 years ago and hoped for the best.

''My putting's been dreadful for most of the year and in the last couple of weeks it had started to irritate me,'' Westwood told a news conference yesterday.

''I holed more putts outside 15ft than I have for the last two weeks.'' This week's event is the second of the year-long Ryder Cup campaign. Westwood, who needed a 'pick' from captain Ian Woosnam before being Europe's joint-highest points scorer in the 2006 match, is not looking ahead to Nick Faldo's team for next year.

Tongue-in-cheek, he said: ''It's too early; if you play well you get in -- if you don't you get a pick.'' Hansen was delighted at keeping his focus playing alongside tournament promoter Bernhard Langer and invitee John Daly as he produced a flawless card containing an eagle and five birdies.

''There were huge galleries, with Bernhard the home boy and John the big-hitter,'' Hansen told reporters. ''I was squeezed in between them.'' Daly is six shots off the lead, while Langer, at 50 bidding to be the tour's oldest winner, shot 69.

Two Britons who are rivals for a Seve Trophy team place, Nick Dougherty and Simon Dyson, share third spot in Cologne on six-under.

The teams for the match will be finalised after this event.

With Westwood, who currently holds the fourth and final place for the Britain &Ireland team, declining to play in the match against Europe, Dougherty is in position to take his spot but can be overtaken by Dyson.


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