The Spaniard’s play in the early part of 2018 was so poor that some saw him as a risky selection for a Ryder Cup wild card but he has not looked back since being selected by Europe captain Thomas Bjorn.
He finished in the top 10 at the Portugal Masters, won three points in the victory at Le Golf National to become the competition’s all-time highest points scorer and then successfully defended his title at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters.
The 2013 Masters champion led after days one and two in Sun City and a third-round 71 moved him to 10 under, two shots clear of fellow major winner Louis Oosthuizen.
England’s Lee Westwood was then at seven under alongside Belgian Thomas Detry and Finn Mikko Korhonen, with another Englishman in Ross Fisher a further shot back.
“It’s going to be tough, there’s no doubt about that,” Garcia told europeantour.com. “But it’s great to come with some good momentum, playing nicely and in the lead. It should be a fun day.
“I think if I can manage to shoot somewhere in the 60s, maybe 70 might be enough. I’m going to see if I can shoot below 70 and see if that’s good enough.”
Garcia – a winner at this event in 2001 and 2003 – birdied the par-five second and hit a stunning approach into the third for back-to-back birdies and a three-shot lead.
He got in tree trouble on the 13th but birdied the 17th after another excellent approach before sending his second into the stands for a closing bogey.
Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, made two birdies and two bogeys to lead the home charge after a 72 while Westwood – winner here in 2010 and 2011 – signed for a 69. Fisher dropped eight shots in his last four holes on Friday but recovered admirably with a third-round 67.
Elsewhere, Connor Syme started strongly in his bid to pass the European Tour Qualifying School final-stage test for the second year running in Spain. The 23-year-old,who came up 10 spots in keeping his seat at the top table after finishing 126th in the Race to Dubai, opened with a bogey-free five-under 66 on the Lakes Course at Lumine Golf in Tarragona to sit inside the top 20 after the first of six rounds in the battle for 25 cards.
Craig Ross is similarly placed after he carded a five-under 67 on the neighbouring Hills Course in a marathon event involving 11 Scots among 157 card contenders.
Three-time European Tour winner Marc Warren opened with a three-under 68 on the Lakes Course, as did James Ross of Royal Burgess, leaving the pair in joint-56th.