Pre-tournament favourite Sergio Garcia gave himself a mountain to climb to challenge for a second Open de Espana title after a poor opening round.
Garcia, who came into the event on the back of losing a play-off for the Players Championship on Sunday, could only manage a three-over-par 75 at El Prat to finish 10 shots behind leader Trevor Fisher of South Africa.
The world No 7 carded six bogeys and three birdies in the tougher afternoon conditions, although Darren Fichardt was also among the later starters and shot 66 to join England’s Tommy Fleetwood and home favourite Eduardo de la Riva in joint second.
After a long flight from Johannesburg on Monday, Fisher only managed nine holes of practice on Tuesday before walking the rest of the course during the pre-tournament pro-am.
However, that did not prevent the world No 172 from carding eight birdies and just one bogey in an opening 65 in pursuit of his second European Tour title of the season following victory in the Africa Open in March.
“I hit one or two loose shots but felt I kept the momentum going, which is key to any good round of golf,” Fisher said. “I sank one or two good putts for par and overall putted really well today, which helped.
“It’s been a massive change since my win. I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot to see. I’m taking in everything and trying to enjoy every week as it comes. Obviously I can play the full schedule now and get to play with the top players in the world. Hopefully we can put a few more good rounds together.”
Fleetwood had two eagles and three birdies in his 66 as he looks to remain inside the world’s top 60 after next week’s BMW PGA Championship in order to qualify for next month’s US Open.
“I was gutted to miss out on the Masters but at the moment my golf is in a good place so I’ve just got to keep my head down and keep going,” said world No 54 Fleetwood, who lost to compatriot Danny Willett in the quarter-finals of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play earlier this month.
“I did not play well in the pro-am on Wednesday then did some good work on the range and came out this morning and hit it really good. I did not miss many fairways and it was just a case of holing a few putts. The greens are tricky and we had to make the most of them this morning.”
Harrogate’s John Parry continued his recent good form, with a round of 68 – to sit three shots off Fisher.
Hull’s Richard Finch and Matthew Fitzpatrick, from Sheffield, shot 72, two better off than Malton’s Simon Dyson.