Sixty-one players were unable to complete their first circuits due to storms in the area forcing play to be suspended in the afternoon for an hour and 50 minutes, by which time Watson had completed a satisfactory day’s work with a round that contained an eagle and five birdies.
The left-hander finished a rather tame 29th when he was the headline act in this event’s inaugural staging two years ago, before doing a bit better in terms of justifying a whopping appearance fee as he tied for eighth behind Korean winner Soomin Lee last season.
He closed with a 66 on that occasion and, after opening with the same eye-catching score this time around, Watson admitted he is beginning to get a feel for the venue. “The more you play the golf course, the more you are going to learn it and get better at it,” he said. “Like the saying is, this is our home course, so after two years of playing it I should know by now.”
Watson, who missed the cut in this year’s Masters following rounds of 74 and 78, held a one-shot lead over five players – South Africans Haydn Porteous and Dean Burmester, Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, German Max Kieffer and Thai Thongchai Jaidee – when play was halted for the day due to darkness. “All in all, a great day and a good start,” added the American.
Like Watson, Stephen Gallacher made an eagle – his came at the 13th whereas the leader got his at the second – as he matched a two-under 70 posted earlier in the day by David Drysdale to sit joint 18th. Duncan Stewart also got finished, signing for a 71, but Richie Ramsay and Scott Jamieson faced an early-morning return to complete their opening circuits. With four holes to play, Ramsay sat on three-under, a shot ahead of Jamieson, who had three holes left when the hooter sounded to halt the proceedings for the day.
Elsewhere, Gemma Dryburgh led a strong Scottish start in the Estrella Damm Mediterranean Ladies Open, a new LET event close to Barcelona.
The Aberdonian carded a four-under-par 67 at Club de Golf Terramar to sit in a five-way tie for second, one shot behind Swede Anna Nordqvist.
Pamela Pretswell (68) and Kelsey Macdonald (69) also opened brightly, with Sally Watson breaking par as well with her 70.
Meanwhile, Jack McDonald started best among nine Scots in the Turkish Airlines Challenge at Gloria Golf in Belek.
The Ayrshireman posted a four-under-par 68 to lie in a share of 13th, though six shots off the pace after Finn Tapio Pulkkanen blazed a hot trail with an eagle and 10 birdies.
Grant Forrest, with a 69, was next best out of the Scots, followed by Scott Henry, Ross Kellett and Jamie McLeary all on 71.