Ramsay leads by two at Valderrama

Scotland’s Richie Ramsay seized the early advantage on day one of the Andalucia Masters after a superb six-under-par 65.

Scotland’s Richie Ramsay seized the early advantage on day one of the Andalucia Masters after a superb six-under-par 65.

The Valderrama course in Sotogrande, Spain, is considered one of the toughest courses in continental Europe, but Ramsay seemed to have little trouble overcoming the challenges it provided in Thursday’s opening round, moving two shots clear of second-placed Ross Fisher of England, who opened with a 67.

Not all the players were finding it as easy as the Scot, however, evidenced by the fact that only eight of the 96 players in the field managed to finish under par on the day.

France’s Gregory Havret and Scotsman, Stephen Gallacher, were tied for third on three under, three shots behind Ramsay and one behind Fisher, while four more players managed one-under-par 70s and are tied for fifth – Ireland’s Peter Lawrie, Australian Scott Strange, another Scot David Drysdale and last week’s runaway winner at the Castello Masters, Sergio Garcia.

Ramsay, who finished third at the Castello Masters last week, acknowledged that Valderrama has always been a course he’s happy to play on, despite its fearsome reputation.

“Valderrama is the kind of course that suits me,” said the 28-year-old.

“It’s a shot-maker’s course. You need to manoeuvre the ball right to left or left to right, sometimes you need the low shot or the high one and I feel comfortable doing that.

“I worked out a good game plan with my caddie about how to play it in the wind and it’s always nice to have a 65 around a classic course like this because it’s had the Ryder Cup and so many great champions.”

Ramsay picked up birdies throughout his round on the day, starting with three on the front nine at the second, fifth and eighth.

Once he made the turn, he picked up three more shots in the space of two holes, birdying the par-four 10th and then eagling the long 11th.

Another birdie was to come at 15, taking his score to seven under at that stage, but the only blemish on his card came at the par-five 17th, where he took a six after missing the green with his pitch over the water into the wind.

Fisher, who is struggling to find form this year and is without a top-five finish all season, was the only other player to really string birdies together on the day, picking up seven in all, but he also had a nasty triple-bogey seven on his card, which came at the par-four eighth, where his drive hit a tree and went out of bounds.

Still, he was happy with his round.

“Very good – anytime you go around Valderrama in par or better it’s a fantastic score,” said Fisher.

“To get round in four under, I’m obviously absolutely delighted. I got off to a great start birdieing the first couple of holes and gave myself a couple of chances. I hit the pin on the par three sixth and it went to three feet which helps, and I made a really good save on seven.

“On eight I hit a good tee shot, it drifted five yards right of the fairway, hits a tree and bounces out of bounds. I was really pleased with the way I fought back.”

Garcia was putting together a great round, and after eagling the 11th thanks to a chip-in he had reached four under, but his last seven holes were nothing if not eventful, featuring two more birdies, but also three bogeys and a double.

“It was a tough day out there,” said Garcia.

“The course was soft because of the rain, but with this amount of wind Valderrama is always tough. I got to 4 under after 11, but I guess it was a good round. We had a bit of fortune on 11 with a chip-in and then we got a little bit unfortunate on 13 and 17 with the drives.

“They were actually good shots, but in Valderrama shots need not only to be good but on the perfect spot. All in all, shooting under par on this course is never a bad thing.”

Justin Rose, playing only his fourth European event of the year, shot a 72, while defending champion Graeme McDowell opened with a 73.

Meanwhile, England’s Nick Dougherty continued his nightmare run with a 13 over par 84 that left him last of the 96 players.