GLENEAGLES, Scotland (Reuters) - Nicolas Colsaerts cleared the first hurdle towards gaining the last automatic spot in Europe's Ryder Cup team by firing a three-under 69 in the Johnnie Walker Championship first round on Thursday.
The 29-year-old Belgian needs to finish in the top two here to earn his Ryder Cup debut in the biennial match against United States in Illinois next month.
Even if he fails to get that top-two finish, Colsaerts is still one of the favorites to become one of two wildcard selections from European captain Jose Maria Olazabal after his spectacular World Match Play Championship victory in Spain in May.
But the player would prefer to win a place on merit rather than as a captain's choice.
"Obviously the big goal is to play," Colsaerts told reporters after moving within one shot of early tournament leader Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark.
"But if I can get myself into the team automatically it would be a big boost. After the way I have been playing for the past year I feel okay playing in that company.
"I know that on any given day I can take on anybody which is why I have done so well in match play events," the Belgian said after a round which included four birdies in five holes from the 14th, his front nine.
The Belgian said he was trying hard not to get too far ahead of himself.
"There is still a long way to go so I should really not be discussing the Ryder Cup," he added.
"But you would have to invent a word to describe how much I want to do it. Out on the course it was going through my head every 10 minutes."
Colsaerts was partnered on Thursday by experienced Dane Thomas Bjorn, one of Olazabal's vice-captains next month.
"I was very pleased with what I saw out there," said Bjorn.
Nine of Olazabal's 10 automatic selections are already known and the final place will be decided after the last round at Gleneagles on Sunday.
The Spaniard is then due to announce his two wildcard picks on Monday.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)