Garcia lurks at Catalunya

Sergio Garcia lived up to his pre-tournament favourite status by opening with a 3-under-par 68 in the first round of the Open de Espana.

While unheralded Englishman Eddie Pepperell surprised by grabbing the first-round lead with a 4-under 68, Garcia lies just one shot off the pace as he looks to win his national open for the second time – 12 years after the first.

Fresh from his third place in The Players Championship at Sawgrass on Sunday, Garcia mixed three birdies and an eagle with two bogeys to tie for second place alongside Jose-Filipe Lima, Peter Uihlein, Richie Ramsay, Thomas Pieters, Robert-Jan Derksen and fellow Spaniards Miguel Angel Jimenez and Rafa Cabrera-Bello.

“I’m happy with my round,” Garcia said after jetting in to Spain from Florida. “I didn’t have the greatest night last night and only slept for about four hours with the jet lag.

“I didn’t feel extremely well with my swing but I managed to put it in play and give myself some good chances at birdies. The course is tough and the fairways are some of the tightest we have played all year.

“With the grass they have in this rough, as soon as you miss the fairway it’s a guessing game.”

Starting from the 10th, Garcia birdied the 12th and 13th but dropped a shot on the next.

He bounced back in style however, by carding an eagle three at the long 15th.

Another bogey followed at 18, but he got that shot back at the par-5 third before parring his way to the clubhouse.

Twenty-three-year-old Pepperell, whose career highlight thus far came when he finished sixth at last year’s BMW PGA Championship, started with a bogey at the first, but then picked up five birdies in an otherwise error-free round to hold the overnight lead.

“Seemingly it’s come out of nowhere looking at my results but it’s very similar to last year,” he said, referring to his showing at Wentworth almost 12 months ago.

“This time last year I started working with Mike (Walker, who also coaches Lee Westwood) and he made a big difference instantly. Then I went and did a couple of my own things, which was a bit silly and cost me a bit of time this year but I feel like I am back on the straight and narrow.

“I back my ability and I know when I am playing well I can shoot good scores. I’m just not at the stage in my career yet when I am playing well enough consistently enough, but hopefully I will get there and today is a good sign.

“It was really tricky when it was flat calm and when I got on the tenth tee all of a sudden the wind came up out of nowhere and was blowing for the whole of the back nine.”