28 June 2019: Sergio Garcia continued his remarkable love affair with Real Club Valderrama to sit just one shot off the lead after day one of the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation. Gaganjeet Bhullar made a spectacular start, ending the day in T11, with a brilliant 69 in the opening round. SSP Chawrasia, Shiv Kapur and Shubhankar Sharma started in over par territory, needing a solid effort on Friday to remain into the weekend.
The Spaniard has won the last three stagings of this event in 2011, 2017 and 2018 and has ten other top tens from 14 appearances at a course he admits is his favourite in the world.
An opening 66 in Sotogrande left him at five under, one shot behind Frenchman Victor Perez.
“I love this place, there is no doubt about that,” he said. “It kind of has something with me that helps me.
“Today was a great round, I hit the ball very well. It’s probably the best that I’ve felt in quite a while.
“It’s just the first round and we have to keep building on that and look forward to a good week. It’s still Thursday, you’ve got to go one step at a time, there’s still a lot of golf to be played.”
South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Malaysian Gavin Green, Swede Anton Karlsson and American Sihwan Kim were alongside Garcia at five under.
Welshman Bradley Dredge, Japan’s Masahiro Kawamura, Frenchman Matthieu Pavon and American Julian Suri were then two shots off the lead, one ahead of a group of ten players including Haydn Porteous, who recorded the third albatross of the season on the 17th.
Kim set the early pace as birdies on the first, fourth, seventh, eighth, tenth and 11th moved him to six under and into a two shot lead.
A bogey on the 15th meant he set the target at five under and Karlsson soon hit the top spot, making a hat-trick of gains from the 15th to add to birdies on the sixth, eighth and ninth.
A bogey on the last put him in the clubhouse alongside Kim and they would soon be joined by a surging Garcia.
After birdies on the 11th and 17th, the 39-year-old put his tee shot to 12 feet on the third, his approach to four feet on the fifth and holed a five footer on the eighth.
He had a good chance to get to six under but missed from six feet on the ninth and it was left to Perez to set the clubhouse target.
The European Challenge Tour graduate turned in 33 with birdies on the second and ninth and made it three in a row on the tenth and 11th before adding further gains on the 15th and 17th.
“I’m very pleased, first round 65 with six birdies,” said Perez. “Very pleased to keep the card clean, it’s one of the toughest places to do it.
“I was just really happy, we had a really good gameplan going in taking advantage of the softer conditions. It’s as soft as the course is going to be this week. Off to a great start.”
In the tougher afternoon conditions, Bezuidenhout made four birdies in a row from the eighth and joined the lead with another gain on the 14th but dropped a shot on the last.
Green also went out in the later groups and he dropped a single shot on the 12th with birdies on the second, fourth, tenth, 11th, 14th and 17th.
Dredge holed out for an eagle on his final hole to sign for a 67, while Kawamura was bogey free, Pavon dropped two shots and Suri had a single blemish on his card.
Adri Arnaus, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Joachim B Hansen, Scott Jamieson, Pablo Larrazábal, Niklas Lemke, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Joost Luiten and Richard McEvoy were alongside Porteous at three under, one clear of World Number 11 Jon Rahm.
– European Tour Report