Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (France) (AFP) - South African George Coetzee and New Zealand's Ryan Fox claimed a share of the lead after the first round of the French Open on Thursday as the European Tour returned to Le Golf National a year after it hosted the Ryder Cup.
The leading duo fired six-under-par rounds of 65 to edge ahead on a kind day for scoring, with world number 128 Fox missing a good birdie chance on the final green as darkness started to close in.
The scene which greeted the players could not have differed more from just over 12 months ago.
The grandstands were gone and there was a low-key feel to an opening day, watched by only a smattering of spectators, of a tournament which has lost some of its allure this week after being pushed from its usual spot at the start of July and removed from the lucrative Rolex Series.
"Today was a bit quiet. Thursday is normal. It's okay," said French player Benjamin Hebert.
Defending champion Alex Noren is the highest-ranked player in the field at 53rd and the only man who also featured in the Ryder Cup, so organisers will be relieved that the event will be returning to its regular slot next year, albeit reportedly in southern France rather than the Paris suburbs.
The 33-year-old Coetzee played the front nine in five-under, while a bogey on the penultimate green was his only blemish.
Coetzee has managed only one top-five finish so far this season -- when he was tied-second behind compatriot Justin Harding at the Qatar Masters in March -- but thinks he is starting to find the form which helped him climb to a career-high 41st in the rankings in 2013.
- 'Hard, long year' -
He has since slipped to his current mark of 289.
"It's nice to be in the mix again. It's been kind of a hard, long year, but feels like the game is coming along nicely," the four-time European Tour winner said, after taking advantage of the early conditions, despite the morning gloom.
"It was weird. It was weird playing in the dark. I felt if I was a cricketer, they would have called it off.
"The course is in amazing nick. Dark and light doesn't really make a difference when the course is as good as it is."
It was a strong day for the home contingent as they look for a first French winner of the event since Thomas Levet in 2011.
Hebert carded a fine five-under 66, capped off with a birdie at the last, to sit tied-third alongside Scotland's Richie Ramsay and in-form American Kurt Kitayama, with French number one Victor Perez one stroke further back.
"I feel good support from the French public. We have only one tournament a year, so it's very important for us to represent (France) this week," said Hebert.
Romain Langasque, who carried the scoreboard during one of Tiger Woods' matches at the Ryder Cup last year to get a taste of the action, signed for a 68.
Meanwhile, Noren's title defence got off to a slow start with a one-over 72.