Padraig Harrington is again in pursuit of that elusive first victory of the year after a sparkling start to his defence of the Telefonica Madrid Open yesterday.
Back at the Club de Campo course where two of his three European tour wins have come, Harrington hit an eagle and eight birdies in an eight-under par 63 and leads by one from Stephen Gallacher, nephew of former the Ryder Cup captain Bernard.
It was a good day too for Retief Goosen. Almost out of reach of Darren Clarke in what is now a two-man race to be Europe's No 1 this season, the South African opened with a 66 to Clarke's 67.
Harrington lies fourth on the money list and has earned more than £1m in Europe. But as things stand, the year will be remembered most for seven second-place finishes. None hurt more than losing the Cisco World Match Play final to Ian Woosnam from three up with 12 to play two weeks ago.
Harrington blamed that on a lack of concentration caused by not eating enough, but despite his score yesterday he was still not entirely happy.
"Obviously my focus was pretty good elsewhere, but I made a couple of errors through poor concentration again," he said. "I'm putting it down to tiredness this time, I'm shattered. This is my fourth week in a row and I would definitely have missed this one but for the fact I'm defending.
"But I've got to be delighted with that round. I'd have been happy with a solid start, but this is clearly better than that."
His playing partner Phillip Price held the main spotlight with a front-nine 31, but Harrington had made a 25-footer for eagle on the long seventh in his 32 and then took over.
Birdies came at the 10th, 11th and 15th and after a second dropped shot on the next he finished with two more.
Gallacher, twice Scottish amateur champion and runner-up to compatriot Andrew Coltart in the Great North Open at Slaley Hall in June, also had eight birdies in what was the lowest round of his tour career.
Joint third on six under are the 48-year-old Irishman Des Smyth and the Spanish pair, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Carlos Rodiles.
In Madeira in March Smyth became the oldest winner in tour history and the bonuses from that are still arriving. Only this week he heard he was in the Rest of the World side for the Ryder Cup-style senior event against America in South Carolina next month. Gary Player and Arnold Palmer are the two captains.
"It's a guaranteed $100,000 and that's huge," he said. "Earlier in my career I never dreamt of earning that sort of money and I'm thrilled. It's made my year."
Goosen was not happy with his swing, but was with his score. He did not have a single bogey and knows that whatever Clarke does, he can clinch the Order of Merit with three more half-decent rounds.
The Ulsterman looked ready to call off the chase at one under with three to play, but he then matched Harrington's eagle on the seventh and his two at the 177-yard ninth.
MADRID OPEN (Madrid) Leading first round scores (GB and Irl unless stated): 63 P Harrington. 64 S Gallacher. 65 C Rodiles (Sp), D Smyth, MA Jimenez (Sp). 66 R Goosen (SA), P Price, B Lane, A Marshall, R Coles, B Davis, G Storm. 67 M Roe, G Owen, J Rystrom (Swe), D Higgins, M Farry (Fr), D Clarke, M Brier (Aut), H Nystrom (Swe), F Roca (Sp). 68 T Gogele (Ger), G Turner (NZ), S Webster, V Phillips, (x) P Martin (Spa), M Reale (It), S Dyson, T Bjorn (Den), A Cabrera (Arg), D Park, A Hansen (Den), D Lynn, M Mackenzie. 69 L Parsons (Aus), S Hansen (Den), A Salto (Spa), D Borrego (Spa), D Terblanche (Rsa), JM Olazabal (Spa), P Casey, R Green (Aus), A Forsyth, M James, I Garbutt, J Bickerton, F Andersson (Swe).70 G Emerson, E Romero (Arg), D Howell, S Torrance, P Mitchell, J-F Remesy (Fr), M Lundberg (Swe), J Rivero (Sp), M Pilkington, G Evans, B Dredge, C Pettersson (Swe), E Simsek (Ger), I Garrido (Sp), S Kjeldsen (Den), E Canonica (It), M McNulty (Zim), A Wall, G Orr, J Quiros (Sp), C Cevaer (Fr), N Vanhootegem (Bel), H Bjornstad (Nor). x denotes amateurReuse content