It may have been three months since Jose Maria Olazabal played a competitive round of golf, but he showed no sign of having lost his touch as a one-under-par 70 in the first round of the Madrid Masters left him three shots off the lead yesterday. The 42-year-old has been out of the game because of injury and fatigue since narrowly failing to qualify for the Open in June, but this comeback – his third of an injury-hit career – seems to be on track.
Paul Broadhurst, of England, the Swede Magnus Carlsson and the Australian Marcus Fraser are the leaders, having all shot 67s, and are hotly pursued by a cluster of five players, including the French Open winner Pablo Larrazabal, who are one shot back on three under. Miguel Angel Jimenez, who would move to third in the European Tour Order of Merit if he wins here, is one of 15 players two shots behind on two under.
Olazabal sent expectations soaring with a birdie on his first hole – the 10th – and he was two under at the turn courtesy of birdies at 16 and 17, which more than made up for a dropped shot on the 14th. He picked up another birdie on the way back in, and even two more bogeys failed to take much of the gloss off an impressive score.
The twice US Masters champion said: "It has been a very positive day and my score is better than I expected. I made some mistakes – I three-putted on two greens – but other parts have been very good.
"I started the 10th hole, my first, with a birdie and I thought to myself 'This is good'. Who would believe that after so much time out of competition I make a birdie to start?"
Broadhurst, the joint leader, is no stranger to enforced absences either, having been out of action with a serious hand injury in 2000. He admitted that his four-under-par 67 was not very pretty, yet he was happy overall.
The 43-year-old said: "I just stuck in there really and had to make a couple of miracle shots to keep it ticking over. I had a couple of very poor tee shots on five and six but came back with another couple of birdies at the end and it's nice to finish four under.
"It doesn't get any easier even if you've been on the Tour for years and I'll be out practising this afternoon."
World Record distance a putt from Jose Maria Olazabal travelled, onboard a Concorde flight to the US in 1999.