Frenchmen Gary Stal, Gregory Havret among co-leaders at Trophee Hassan II

Gregory Havret European Tour Getty Images

Frenchmen Gary Stal, Gregory Havret among co-leaders at Trophee Hassan II

Euro Tour

Frenchmen Gary Stal, Gregory Havret among co-leaders at Trophee Hassan II

One would think French players don’t like getting upstaged by Spain from a cursory glance at the Trophee Hassan II leaderboard. Two Frenchmen are among the leaders after the opening round at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat, Morocco.

Gary Stal and veteran Gregory Havret share the lead at 3 under with England’s James Morrison and Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard after posting 70s.

Three other French players are just a shot behind. Clement Sordet, Gregory Bourdy and Alexander Levy all returned 71s to be among a gaggle of 13 players tied for second. Italy’s Edoardo Molinari, a 2010 Ryder Cup player, is the most notable name in the chasing pack.

Sergio Garcia’s Masters victory seems to have inspired at least two of his countrymen. Pablo Larrazabal and former Arizona State player Alejandro Canizares are just two shots off the lead.

Havret is a three-time European Tour winner and an experienced campaigner at age 40.

“It’s good to play under par,” said Havret, who was runner-up to Graeme McDowell in the 2010 U.S. Open. “Anything in the red here is very good on a very tough course, so I’m happy. Even par is a good score. This course always plays hard and, since the changes a few years ago, it’s even harder.”

Stal is looking for his second win following his shock victory in the 2015 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The 25-year-old came from eight shots off the lead to defeat Martin Kaymer two years ago.

“I played really well today,” Stal said. “My driving was good, my irons were really good and my putting was okay. The course is hard, though. If you miss a shot you will pay the penalty.”

Levy is returning to action after a long layoff during which he’s made major changes to his game.

“I’ve had eight weeks off, and I’ve practiced a lot and changed (my) coach,” Levy said. “So it’s nice to come back out to play a tournament. It’s exciting to bring all that hard work over the last eight weeks back out on the golf course.”

Molinari regained his European Tour playing rights at last year’s Qualifying School. A win this week would mean he won’t have to worry about returning to the school for a third straight year.

Former Masters winner Mike Weir is playing on a sponsor invitation, but the Canadian struggled to an opening 81 and sits T-140 in the 144-man field.

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