Garcia and Lara beat the elements on home turf

With the wind picking up as the first round of the Volvo Masters progressed throughout the day, the afternoon starters had the worst of the draw. Not that there was much luck involved in that. For the purposes of the last event of the season - don't worry, the new season will start in a matter of weeks, not months - the draw for the first round was taken straight off the order of merit.

With the wind picking up as the first round of the Volvo Masters progressed throughout the day, the afternoon starters had the worst of the draw. Not that there was much luck involved in that. For the purposes of the last event of the season - don't worry, the new season will start in a matter of weeks, not months - the draw for the first round was taken straight off the order of merit.

There was not much merit in having played well throughout the season. Only 12 players scored under par and most of them were in the early groups; none came from the last seven pairings which included the likes of Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Padraig Harrington.

The last two, plus Thomas Levet, need to win to overtake the absent Retief Goosen for second place on the money list but Levet hit a 75, Jimenez a 73 and Harrington a 72.

A 73 amounts to two over par at Valderrama and Sergio Garcia thought it was the par of the day. Harrington skipped inside the mark with a birdie at the last after a fine approach to two feet.

Garcia certainly did not have to worry about being over par. With a four-under 67, the Spaniard led with his compatriot Jose Manuel Lara. It was a mark of how well Garcia played that his round was almost incident-free.

Lara could not say the same. On the fifth hole he was stung on the foot by a bee and limped along for three holes. "It must have been good for me because I started making birdies," said Lara, who was also suffering from a cold.

The rain of Wednesday had departed, leaving the greens slightly softer than usual but the fairways as firm as ever. "It wasn't easy to play out there but I managed to play pretty decently," Garcia said. He struggled to remember a poor shot he had hit and could only nominate a chip at the 15th which ran on 10 feet past the hole. Fortunately, he holed the putt for his par leaving only one bogey on his card. Had two birdie-putts from inside 10 feet fallen at the last two holes, his score would have been the more remarkable.

Having won twice in the States in the summer, Garcia won the Mallorca Classic a fortnight ago for his second victory in Spain. "I probably do want it a bit more when I'm at home, but it is still the same trying to win and putting yourself in contention. When you are out there, I really can't think if I'm in Spain or England or the US. I'm just trying to get the job done."

Luke Donald, at two under, was the only other member of the Ryder Cup team to get into red figures, which had not seemed likely at two over after eight holes. But his 32 coming home was the best inward half of the day; not bad for a man playing here competitively for the first time. "I think the course suits me," said the 26-year-old Englishman. "You really have to place your tee shots and your shots to the greens. I'm learning as I go along and, hopefully, I'll have figured it out by Sunday."

Next season's schedule starts at the end of next month in China, a country that could, once all the venues are confirmed, stage up to four events, the same number as England, Scotland and Spain. One notable change sees the HSBC World Match Play at Wentworth brought forward by a month to the middle of September in the hope of persuading some of the leading players who skipped it this year to play.

VOLVO MASTERS (Valderrama, Sp) Leading first-round scores (GB and Irl unless stated): 67 J-M Lara (Sp), S Garcia (Sp). 68 A Forsyth, B Davis. 69 J Lomas, C Cevaer (Fr), P O'Malley (Aus), L Donald. 70 B Dredge, P Hanson (Swe), M Fraser (Aus), T Immelman (SA). 71 S Dodd, J Kingston (SA), T Price (Aus), R Gonzalez (Arg), I Poulter, J Haeggman (Swe). 72 T Jaidee (Thai), P Casey, L Westwood, P Harrington. Selected: 73 P Broadhurst, D Clarke, G McDowell, M-A Jimenez (Sp). 74 S Drummond. 75 C Montgomerie, T Bjorn (Den), T Levet (Fr). 76 P Price, P McGinley.

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