England’s Eddie Pepperell emerged from a tightly-packed leaderboard to claim the outright lead after the first round of the Spanish Open.
Scotland’s Richie Ramsay lies one behind while Paul Lawrie is two shots off the lead in his first tournament in 12 weeks.
Pepperell carded an opening four-under-par 68 at PGA Catalunya to finish a shot ahead of a group of eight, including Ramsay, pre-tournament favourite Sergio Garcia and fellow Spaniards Miguel Angel Jimenez and Rafael Cabrera-Bello. Another eight players were a shot further back on two under, including Ryder Cup hopeful Joost Luiten and former Open champion Lawrie, in his first appearance since January after back and neck problems.
Pepperell finished 76th on the Race to Dubai in his rookie campaign last year, but so far this season has made just three halfway cuts in ten events, with a best finish of joint 45th in Abu Dhabi in January.
“Seemingly it’s come out of nowhere looking at my results but it’s very similar to last year,” said the 23-year-old from Oxford, whose best finish in 2013 was a tie for sixth in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. “This time last year I started working with Mike (Walker, who coaches Lee Westwood) and he made a big difference instantly. Then I went and did a couple of my own things, which was a bit silly and cost me a bit of time this year but I feel like I am back on the straight and narrow.
“I back my ability and I know when I am playing well I can shoot good scores. I’m just not at the stage in my career yet when I am playing well enough consistently enough, but hopefully I will get there and today is a good sign.
“It was really tricky when it was flat calm and when I got on the 10th tee all of a sudden the wind came up out of nowhere and was blowing for the whole of the back nine.”
Garcia had enjoyed the calmer morning conditions as he set about justifying his billing as pre-tournament favourite with an opening 69. Fresh from his third place in the Players Championship at Sawgrass on Sunday, Garcia was as short as 4-1 to win his national open for the second time, 12 years after his last success. And the world No 7 shrugged off a bad night’s sleep following his journey from Florida to card three birdies, an eagle and two bogeys.
“I’m happy with my round,” said Garcia. “I didn’t have the greatest night last night and only slept for about four hours with the jet lag.
“I didn’t feel extremely well with my swing but I managed to put it in play and give myself some good chances at birdies. The course is tough and the fairways are some of the tightest we have played all year.”
Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen partly had a hole-in-one on the fifth to thank for his 69 – he holed out with a 5 iron from 211 yards – while Ramsay would have hoped for even better than his 69 after birdies on his first three holes.
Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal had asked players, caddies and spectators to wear black as a mark of respect for caddie Iain McGregor, who died on Sunday while working for Alastair Forsyth in the Madeira Islands Open.
A minute’s silence was also observed in honour of Zimbabwean McGregor, who suffered a fatal heart-attack on the ninth hole at Santo da Serra, while his fellow caddies helped erect a large advertising board bearing his picture near the first hole.
(Gbr&Irl unless stated, par 72):
68 Eddie Pepperell
69 Robert Jan Derksen (Ned), Richie Ramsay, Jose-Filipe Lima (Por), Peter Uihlein (USA), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa), Rafael Cabrera Bello (Spa), Thomas Pieters (Bel)
70 Ross Fisher, Joost Luiten (Ned), Jordi Garcia pinto (Spa), Danny Willett, Jbe Kruger (Rsa), Paul Lawrie, Fabrizio Zanotti (Par), Victor Riu (Fra)
71 Jeev Milkha Singh (Ind), Roope Kakko (Fin), Hennie Otto (Rsa), Jorge Campillo (Spa), Ricardo Santos (Por), Daan Huizing (Ned), Kenneth Ferrie, James Morrison, Graeme Storm, Alexander Noren (Swe), Ivo Giner (Spa), Gaganjeet Bhullar (Ind), Gregory Havret (Fra)
72 Mikael Lundberg (Swe), Mark Tullo (Chi), Magnus A Carlsson (Swe), Adam Gee, Agustin Domingo(Spa), Tom Lewis, Javi Colomo(Spa), Morten Orum Madsen(Den), Pablo Larrazabal(Spa), Andy Sullivan, Robert Rock, Shane Lowry, Alejandro Canizares(Spa), Wade Ormsby (Aus), Paul McGinley, Simon Thornton, Alexander Levy (Fr)
Others: 73 Craig Lee. 74 David Drysdale,. 75 Marc Warren, Christopher Doak. 76 Jack Doherty, Alastair Forsyth. 82 Scott Henry.