GLENEAGLES, Scotland — Nicolas Colsaerts shot a 3-under 69 on Thursday in the Johnnie Walker Championship, leaving the Ryder Cup hopeful two shots behind the first-round leaders in the final event in the points races for the 10 automatic spots on the European team.
The big-hitting Belgian made five birdies — including four in five holes on Nos. 14-18 — to share eighth place. He must finish first or second be assured of an automatic position in the matches next month against the United States at Medinah in Illinois.
“(It’s) a pretty good start and that’s exactly what I wanted,” Colsaerts said. “As for the Ryder Cup, I can only manage what I do. But we’ve only played one round and anybody can still make a great story happen.”
Australia’s Brett Rumford and Norwegian playing partner Knut Borsheim shot 67 on Gleneagles Hotel’s PGA Centenary Course, the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout that will be the site of the 2014 Ryder Cup.
Five players, including Ryder Cup qualifiers Paul Lawrie of Scotland and Francesco Molinari of Italy were a stroke back.
The 29-year-old Colsaerts arrived in Scotland 12th in the European Ryder Cup points table. If he doesn’t finish in the top two of the Johnnie Walker Championship, he would have to rely on one of captain Jose Maria Olazabal’s two wild-card picks. The top five on the European points list will earn spots, and the top five on the world points list, not already qualified, also will qualify.
“I am very happy as I was in control of my game all day and this is the start that I wanted and something without too much stress,” Colsaerts said. “The only thing I can do this week is to make sure of what I do and not worry about the others. But then it is difficult not to think about the Ryder Cup and it’s getting pretty intense as I’ve been in this situation now for quite a couple of weeks.
“I played well in America and then I came back here and I have the media all over me all the time, so it makes it difficult not to think about the Ryder Cup.”
Defending champion Thomas Bjorn, who played alongside Colsaerts, kept himself in the mix as a possible captain’s pick with an opening 70.
Former U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell finished with a 82 that included back-to-back 8s.