Julien Guerrier in the lead at Valderrrama

Only ten men managed to shoot under par on Thursday at the Real Club Valderrama. Julien Guerrier showed great acumen to produce a 67

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Julien Guerrier - Getty Images - European Tour

15 October 2021: Julien Guerrier overcame windy conditions to maintain his recent improved form and lead by one after the opening day of the 2021 Andalucía Masters. Starting off the tenth tee, Shubhankar Sharma had a torrid time dealing with the course and conditions and bled his way to a 79.

Real Club Valderrama is one of the European Tour’s toughest tests on a calm day but the Frenchman overcame gusty conditions to card a 67 and sit at four under, one shot clear of local hero and last week’s winner Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Another Frenchman in Romain Langasque was then at two under, a shot clear of Danish duo Joachim B. Hansen and Søren Kjeldsen, Dutchman Wil Besseling, Kiwi Ryan Fox, England’s Andrew Johnston and Swede Sebastian Soderberg.

Raphaël Jacquelin was also at one under, with the Frenchman set to return to complete his final hole early on day two.

Guerrier arrived in Spain for last week’s Acciona Open de España presented by Madrid sitting 132nd on the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex and facing a battle over the final weeks of the season to keep his playing privileges.

A tie for third in the capital means his place on the 2022 Race to Dubai is now virtually assured and he can focus on sealing a first European Tour title in Sotogrande.

A two time winner in 2017 on the European Challenge Tour, the 36-year-old has two previous top 50s in this event and was glad to be peaking at the right time.

“I think I’m more relaxed,” he said. “I’m playing to shoot a low score, not save my card, that’s the main thing. We work every day, improve our game and it’s working at the end of the year.

“It was really complicated today. The wind was growing stronger on the back nine.

“I had two bogeys on the scorecard, very few, and six birdies. It’s good to have six birdies in these conditions.

I’m playing to shoot a low score, not save my card, that’s the main thing. We work every day, improve our game and it’s working at the end of the year

“I was putting really well. We know with these firm greens, they are really quick, and with this wind it’s very difficult. But I holed a few long putts on the first and the third and after I hit a lot of greens in regulation. That was the key.”

Guerrier dropped shots at the 12th and 18th but made three birdies in between, holing from inside ten feet on the 13th and 16th and making a two putt birdie on the 17th.

A 20 footer on the first moved him to two under and he holed from even further out on the third before hitting a smart approach into the fifth.

Cabrera Bello took advantage of the par five 11th and then holed an 18 footer on the 14th before dropping a shot on the next.

An approach to seven feet on the first was followed by a 14 footer and he parred his way home to finish at three under.

Langasque bogeyed the tenth but made the most of the par five 11th and 17th before putting a stunning approach to three feet on the second.

An eagle from 50 feet on the fourth handed him a share of the lead but he bogeyed his next two holes to fall back.

Johnston won the Open de España at this venue five years ago and he overcame two bogeys in his first three holes to card a 70, with Hansen and Fox also carding three bogeys and four birdies in their rounds.

Kjeldsen dropped a single stoke in his round, while Besseling dropped two shots and Soderberg recovered from four blemishes.

There were only nine completed under par rounds on day one, with Ryder Cup star Matt Fitzpatrick and local favourites Alejandro Cañizares and Pablo Larrazábal among those at level par.