THE three players who could prevent Rory McIlroy being crowned European number one for the second time in two years made good starts to their tough task in the Turkish Airlines Open on Thursday.
Jamie Donaldson, Sergio Garcia and Marcel Siem can still overtake McIlroy at the top of the Race to Dubai, but only if they win both in Turkey and next week’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
World number one McIlroy is the only player to win back-to-back titles on the European Tour in 2014 but his rivals could take heart from the fact that Billy Horschel won the last two events of the FedEx Cup play-offs earlier this year to claim the overall title.
Siem has already tasted success in the Final Series, winning the BMW Masters in China, and was soon in red figures in Antalya with birdies on the 10th and 13th after starting on the back nine of the Montgomerie course at Maxx Royal.
Donaldson was also two under after following birdies at the 10th and 11th with a bogey on the 12th and another birdie on the 14th, while Garcia was one under after a birdie on the 10th.
Scotland’s Marc Warren was setting the early pace on four under after four birdies in his first six holes, with English duo Eddie Pepperell and Simon Dyson among a five-strong group on three under.
Colin Montgomerie, making his 600th European Tour appearance on the course he designed, was one over par after four holes, with defending champion Victor Dubuisson two over after starting with a double bogey on the 10th.
The course had supposedly been toughened up somewhat since Dubuisson won on 24 under par last year, but there was precious little evidence of that in the early stages.
Warren birdied the first - one of the five par fives - and second to move to six under and was joined in the lead by Miguel Angel Jimenez, who had holed his second shot to the 10th, his first hole of the day, for an eagle and then carded four birdies in a row from the 13th.
South African Hennie Otto was just a shot behind after recovering from two early bogeys with seven birdies in succession - just one short of the European Tour record - from the 15th, while Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher was also five under after an eagle on the first.