VALENCIA, Spain -- Challenge Tour graduates Morten Orum Madsen and Gary Stal showed their European Tour credentials on Thursday as they joined Chile’s Felipe Aguilar in a three-way tie for the lead after the first round of the Spanish Open.
Frenchman Stal – who won twice en route to finishing 17th on last season’s Challenge Tour – had four birdies in his bogey-free 4-under 68 at Parador de El Saler.
“My game is good,” said Stal, who chipped to a foot at the 15th. “This is my first time on the leaderboard – I like that!”
Denmark’s Madsen, 25, hails from the same Silkeborg GK club as Thomas Bjorn, and had five birdies and one bogey in his matching 68.
“It was a very solid round, I’m really happy,” said Madsen, who almost chipped in for eagle at the fifth, and graduated 19th from last season’s Challenge Tour.
“I enjoy playing challenging conditions. I’ve been playing solidly most of the season, obviously today I played really well,” he explained. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was little.”
In comparison to his co-leaders, 38-year-old Aguilar is something of a veteran, but after three top-10 finishes at the start of 2013 he hinted that he might be about to end his five-year wait for a second European Tour title, he then failed to make the cut or break 70 in his next three events.
However, Aguilar was back to his best with six birdies and two bogeys as he set the target score for the afternoon starters.
"This course is playing very nicely – especially in the morning with very little wind,” said Aguilar. “The conditions are absolutely fantastic. It's a very difficult golf course if you miss the fairways off the tee. As long as you keep it on the fairway off the tee you get pretty good chances. The greens are rolling really nicely.
“Usually the wind picks up in the afternoon, so being in the top spots during the morning is pretty good,” he added. “Tomorrow afternoon will be a decision day and it's going to be a little windier, so we'll see how it goes."
Eight players were tied for fourth on 3 under, including Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who continued the good form that saw him finish tied for 20th at the Masters with a 69, while compatriot Sergio Garcia was among those round in level par.
“I think 3 under is a great start,” said Fernandez-Castano. “I played some steady golf and got a couple of lucky breaks when I needed them and I holed some nice putts.
“This course is second to none, one of my favorites in the world. I think the Spanish Federation alongside with Reale Seguros is doing a great job in moving the Spanish Open around the best courses in the country and this stop was very much obliged,” he added. “It’s good to be back on the European Tour. This is my home tour, and, of course, it's nice to be back in Spain.
Miguel Angel Jiménez, in his first event of 2013 after breaking his leg skiing in December, was slightly rusty as he carded a 76.