Nilsson hits the front in France

Christian Nilsson was the surprise first-round leader at the French Open, carding a six-under-par 65.

World number 263 Christian Nilsson was the surprise first-round leader at the French Open, carding a six-under-par 65 for a one-shot advantage.

The Swede made four birdies in six holes and then a bogey six at the 596-yard ninth, but finished with birdies at the 10th 14th and 15th to hold a slender lead over England’s Gary Boyd, Italian teenager Matteo Manassero and Wales Open winner Thongchai Jaidee, from Thailand.

Nilsson doesn’t have a top 35 finish to his name yet this season, so he was naturally happy with his start at Le Golf National near Paris.

“I’m very happy. It’s been a struggle this year for me so far, so I really needed this score today, and especially on this tough course. It’s good for my confidence,” he said.

“I think the course plays quite tough even though it’s calm conditions and beautiful weather, but still a tough course. I’m really pleased with six-under-par. I’ve been practising on things I believe in and just waiting for something to happen. It finally looks like it did.”

Boyd, who along with Manassero, shot bogey-free rounds, was also delighted to be mixing it at the front after his nightmare at the Wales Open recently.

He started with 88 in Wales that included two 10s, but found some form after some spending some time with his coach in America.

“That was a bit of a disaster, but I’ve had a lot of positive signs the last three weeks,” said the 25-year-old.

“I’m working on the right things I feel and am getting comfortable again. My game wasn’t where it needed to be and it was time to take a time-out.”

The 19-year-old Manassero, who has been tipped to bigger things after he won the Silver Medal as top amateur in the 2009 Turnberry British Open, hopes to carry the good form over into the weekend.

“Of late, I’ve been quiet,” he said. “I started the year really well with five Top-10s and then the last few events I was playing well but still couldn’t score.

“But this gives me confidence for doing a good week here.

“It was the best round you could have because on this golf course you can’t stay too nervous or too tense because if you don’t play well this course makes you think about all of the mistakes that you can make.”

David Lynn of England, Federico Colombo of Italy and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain are two shots off the pace while world number three Lee Westwood recovered from four over after six holes to card a 70 with Darren Clarke.

Westwood said: “I didn’t do much wrong to be four over, but there’s not a lot of panic in me any more – I haven’t got much time for that.

“It was not going my way, but you just have to get it out of your mind.”

Westwood’s English compatriot Paul Casey had a day to forget after carding a nine-over 80, which is just two shots better than last-placed Paul Broadhurst, who only qualified for The Open a few days ago.

Graeme McDowell and defending champion Thomas Levet struggled to a one-over 72.