Sergio Garcia got off to the perfect start as the tournament host of his home European Tour event as the Spaniard moved into a share of the first round lead at the Andalucía Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation.
The 37 year old is making his first appearance in his native land since claiming his maiden Major Championship title at the Masters Tournament in April and he delighted the home crowds upon his return with a five under par 66.
That marked his best ever start on a Real Club Valderrama course upon which he has already enjoyed one victory and three runner-up finishes, and he was joined at the top by Joost Luiten of the Netherlands, who carded five birdies on the front nine – his back nine – en route to a 66.
Another local favourite, Pablo Larrazábal, backed up Garcia’s home charge as he signed for a four under 67 to share second place with Englishman Robert Rock, while Andrew Johnston – who won on this course last year – was two shots further back in a share of sixth.
World Number Five Jon Rahm, meanwhile, got off to a disappointing start in his first professional appearance on home soil as he struggled to a three over par 74.
“It was nice. Unfortunately it was very wet after the rain yesterday and this morning but the course is still holding well. Towards the end of the round the ball wasn’t even picking up mud on a lot of the spots on the fairway. It’s the kind of golf course that only needs a little bit of sun and a little bit of wind and it dries up quickly. It was gettable because it was soft but you still had to hit good shots and I was able to do that for the most part of the day. I’m very happy with my round.
“The game was on pretty much all day. I hit my irons very well, I didn’t drive the ball well on the eighth hole but I was pretty much spot on there and I made some nice putts here and there. The greens were rolling quite fast, more than anything the back nine was even faster than the front. Overall I think it was very solid.
“It was nice to see so many people coming out even early in the morning and after all this rain, with all the kids.”
“It was early when I teed off and I thought the back nine was playing tough, playing long and the ball wasn’t going as far. The 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th are pretty much into the wind so you’ve got to be patient if you’re playing that nine first.
“Finally on my back nine, the front nine, I started to hit some really good iron shots and I hit some really close for easy birdies.
“It’s soft out there, a bit wider on the fairways because of that, but it plays a bit longer because you don’t get any run on the ball. You’ve got to stay in position on this course and play to certain areas and this year you might be playing different clubs than usual but it’s still the same spots you’re aiming for and I did that well today.
“I think my irons on my back nine were really good. I hit about four shots to within three foot for easy birdies and that makes this game a lot easier.”
“I wanted to stop when I was six under, it’s going to be hard to keep it at six under with this closing stretch to play and I’m fully aware of how difficult 13, 14, 15 and 16 are.
“I hit a terrible iron shot into the green on the 14th, it was on the green but I knew the putt I’d left myself was almost a guaranteed three-putt. I bailed out on the second shot and it cost me, you’ve got to be a little bit braver than that.
“It’s always a tricky course because every shot demands your attention and you have to hit proper shots for them to finish where you want them to but you get a little bit extra when it’s soft because the ball doesn’t run out quite as far on the greens and the putts are a little bit easier. The greens are still small so it still means a good iron shot but you can be sure that it’s going to land and stop which is nice – and I don’t think I’ve ever played it like that. You’re normally a bit scared of what the ball is going to do when it lands on the green so I felt like you really need to make the most of that today.”
“Believe it or not it’s been a tough one today. It started very badly, hitting the ball very poorly. On the first hole I had to lay up with my second shot and I made a good bogey. Then I hit a driver into the woods by about 60 or 70 metres. Then I made a great par straight after that and started hitting it a little bit better.
“My first birdie came on the ninth and from then on I played great golf. Today was both sides of my golf.
“I know this golf course and I know everyone is going to make mistakes and everyone is going to make bogeys but if you stay patient and hang in there, don’t make too many mistakes and keep it going, you’re going to get a lot of birdie chances if you play well.
“I’ve been playing well the last few months even though I’ve only played two weekends all summer. But I’ve been believing in what I’m doing.”
“I’ve played well on both nines. I holed a few long putts early on in my round and at the 17th for birdie as well, and I didn’t hole many on my back nine but I played really solid, kept the ball in play, hit it into some decent spots and didn’t get into too much trouble so I was really happy.
“You’ve got to control your spin out there. There were a couple of times, like at the 17th where I had about 110 yards and I was hitting a wedge, really taking the spin off it because you’re so worried about hitting anything hard and it spinning too much and back into the hazards from the greens.
“It was a great group with Sergio and Shane, such good guys, and it’s great playing with Sergio. He’s such a good player and when you play with him I think it can help your game too so I really enjoyed playing with him.”