Larrazabal inspired by Iniesta triumph

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The Independent Online

Of all the professionals who skipped into the recorders' hut here yesterday after a low-scoring first round of the European Open, none bore a smile any wider than that of Pablo Larrazabal. There was a very good reason for it: Larrazabal happens to be a rabid Barcelona fan who has been close friends with one Andres Iniesta since the pair played football together on the same school team.

Indeed, so delighted was the 26-year-old with the Champions' League triumph on Wednesday night – and, of course, with his former team-mate's man-of-the-match contribution – that he draped a Barcelona flag over his golf bag and carried his replica shirt to bring some luck. It seemed to do the trick for the Spaniard, who after winning the French Open last June was tipped as the Tour's next sensation. Larrazabal is still waiting for his first top 20 finish of 2009, but began yesterday with an encouraging two-under par 70 to stand five off Anders Hansen's lead.

"Maybe I was a little inspired by our tremendous win," said Larrazabal. "Coming from Barcelona I'm a huge fan and I went to school with Andres Iniesta. We are good friends and I'll ring him with my congratulations. The goalkeeper, Víctor Valdes, was also at our school. In fact, most of the Barcelona players went there, and I played in the same team as them. That made me want to go to the final even more."

Larrazabal even considered pulling out of this £1.8m event, especially when his Nou Camp contacts secured him tickets. "I had six in all and I was thinking of going to Rome with some friends and then flying back," he said. "But all the flights were booked and I haven't been playing well enough to justify a private plane. So I watched the game in my hotel room – by myself. I needed to be alone."

There was also the little matter of a 8.10am tee-off time to preclude any wild celebrations and when he holed his approach from 104 yards for an eagle two on the par-four 13th his restraint appeared to be about to pay rich dividends. But showing the erratic tendency that threatens to blight such a promising career, the 2008 rookie of the year proceeded to drop five shots in his next five holes. Still, four successive birdies from the first onwards kept him in touch with the pacesetters on a congested leaderboard which includes Rory McIlory and Sergio Garcia on three-under, but not Shane Lowry whose professional career began with an ugly 78.

It meant Larrazabal could retire to the clubhouse a happy man and regale his fellow pros with tales about the times he ran out alongside Iniesta. And one particular reminiscence should have Premier League scouts rushing for the next plane. "We were 14 and 15 when we on the same team, but no, Andres was not our star player," he said. "It was another midfielder named Jorge Troiteiro. He had more technique than Iniesta. I think he is playing in the Spanish third division now."