McGowan in charge in Spain

Ross McGowan shot a very welcome 64 in the Castello Masters on Thursday to lead by two shots after the first round.

England’s Ross McGowan shot a very welcome 64 in the Castello Masters on Thursday, giving him a two-shot lead after the first round.

The 29-year-old has had a lackluster year so far, one that has seen him drop from 63rd in the world all the way down to 543rd.

Currently 163rd on the Race to Dubai money list, McGowan needs a strong finish to his season if he’s to keep his European Tour card for next year, and in light of his struggles, his seven-under-par 64 at the Club de Campo del Mediterráneo in Castellón today was just what the doctor ordered.

McGowan made an eagle on the 503-yard par-four 17th after holing a beautiful four-iron approach shot, and added five more birdies to that in a faultless display.

He leads Italian Fabrizio Zanotti and another Englishman, Richard McEvoy, by two shots, after the duo both carded first-round 66s.

As good a start as it is, McGowan will be wary of the fact that he opened with a 64 at the Madrid Masters two weeks ago to lead there as well, but gradually fell away, eventually finishing in 42nd place.

“It’s nice to be playing well again and up in contention,” he told Sky Sports.

“I’m not really thinking about the ‘Race to Dubai’ at the moment. I’m just trying to play each shot at a time and put up a good result at the end of the week.”

Of the eagle he said: “I wasn’t sure it had gone in. I heard one clap, got up there and found it in the hole.”

A large group of seven players are on four under, three back, after rounds of 67 – George Coetzee, Anthony Wall, Michael Hoey, Thongchai Jaidee, Danny Willett, Gary Orr and Sergio Garcia, who was clearly enjoying playing at his home club.

Garcia was only one over at the turn, but caught alight coming home on the front nine to record a five-under 31 with birdies at the second, fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth holes.

“It was a slow start, but the par putt on one (his 10th hole) was huge and then I got going,” said the Spaniard.

Garcia was playing alongside exciting youngsters Matteo Manassero and Tom Lewis, who both began their challenges solidly enough on Thursday.

Manassero, the defending champion, started superbly with four successive birdies straight out of the gates, but slipped up on the sixth hole for a nasty double bogey. He eventually carded a two-under 69.

Lewis, who stunningly captured the Portugal Masters in only his third professional start on Sunday, played Thursday’s first round feeling somewhat under the weather because of a virus. He had to be content with a level-par 71.