Host Garcia two shots off the pace as he eyes third straight title

Sergio Garcia is hoping to win the Andalucia Valderrama Masters for a third time. Pic: Warren Little/Getty Images
Sergio Garcia is hoping to win the Andalucia Valderrama Masters for a third time. Pic: Warren Little/Getty Images
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Tournament host Sergio Garcia made a great start to his bid for a third-straight victory in the weather-affected Andalucia Valderrama Masters.

Garcia has finished outside the top 10 just once in 13 previous appearances at Valderrama and an opening 68 left him two shots off the clubhouse lead held by England’s Ashley Chesters.

A thunderstorm delayed the start of play by two hours and another in early afternoon led to a further suspension of play which meant half the 126-strong field did not complete their rounds.

“It was nice,” Garcia told Sky Sports after his first round since becoming the top points scorer in Ryder Cup history in Europe’s victory at Le Golf National in Paris.

“Obviously I didn’t feel as smooth when I came back from the break. I hit a great shot on six, unfortunately missed that birdie putt and then hit a couple of loose shots, but any time you shoot under par on this course, it doesn’t matter the conditions, I’m obviously happy about it.

“I saw a lot of great things, a couple of things that we need to improve but overall it was a good day.

“To be here at my favourite golf course to play, where I’m a member from last year onwards, it’s great fun and hopefully we’ll get a little bit lucky. It doesn’t look like the weather is going to be very helpful but it would be nice to get as many rounds as possible.”

Chesters carded six birdies and a solitary bogey in a five-under-par 66 which gave him a one-shot lead over France’s Gregory Bourdy, with Australia’s Jason Scrivener alongside Garcia on three under.

“Considering all the delays and everything, I’m happy with that and the last few holes are probably the best I played all day,” Chesters said after birdies on the 17th and 18th.

“It’s not a long-hitters course so it does suit me because you just need to get it in position off the tee. The forecast for the rest of the week isn’t good either so I was just thinking ‘nobody knows how many holes we’re going to get played’, so I was just trying to make as many birdies as I can and get in.”

Bourdy needs to finish joint second or better to retain his European Tour card after failing to record a top-30 finish all season.

The 36-year-old is 179th on the money list, with the top 116 at the end of the week securing full playing privileges for next season.

Scotland’s Richie Ramsay does not need such a good finish as he currently lies 124th on the standings, but posted an opening 69 despite a double-bogey seven on the 17th, his eighth hole of the day.

“I didn’t know what way to approach this week because I’ve never been in this position before,” Ramsay said.

“So I spoke to my daughter (Olivia was born in 2016) and she is happy and healthy and as long as she is, dad can go and play golf.

“If I play to my capabilities this week I can definitely get into contention and think about winning, not just keeping my card.”