England’s Ross McGowan, fighting for his European Tour future, began the Castello Masters with a seven under par 64 in Spain yesterday.
A year after his bid for a Ryder Cup debut was scuppered by a wrist injury, the 29-year-old is only 163rd on the money list and has slumped from 63rd in the world to 543rd.
But, needing things to go his way, he sank his four-iron approach to the 503-yard 17th for an eagle two and also had five birdies in a flawless display.
McGowan will not be taking anything for granted, however. A fortnight ago he started the Madrid Masters with a 64 and led there as well, only to fall all the way back to 42nd.
McGowan is two in front of compatriot Richard McEvoy and Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, and three clear of a group which includes Sergio Garcia on his home course and Northern Irishman Michael Hoey on his first appearance since winning the Dunhill Links title.
Hoey was six under with three to play, then followed a bogey on the short 16th with a double bogey before holing from off the green for birdie at the last.
Garcia, without a win for almost three years but much more like his old self this season, was down on one over after 10 holes, but birdied five of the next eight.
In contrast, 18-year-old defending champion Matteo Manassero had to settle for a 69 after kicking off with four successive birdies, while 20-year-old Tom Lewis, winner of the Portugal Masters in only his third professional start last Sunday, shot 71.
Sheffield’s Danny Willett opened with an excellent 67, four shots better than Harrogate’s John Parry and nine better than Richard Finch, from Hull.