Paul Lawrie of Scotland and Ricardo Gonzalez of Argentina shot 7-under 64s Thursday to tie for the first-round lead at the European tour’s Castello Masters, and Sergio Garcia had a 71 in his return from a two-month break.
Lawrie and Gonzalez each had seven birdies in bogey-free rounds on the Club de Campo del Mediterraneo course. England’s David Horsey, the winner of the BMW International in June, was one shot back after a 65, also bogey-free.
Garcia is two shots ahead of compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal, who is playing in his second tournament of 2010.
Gonzalez’s round gives him hope of retaining his European playing card for the 12th straight year. The Argentine is 125th on the European money list and without a top-10 finish in the last nine months.
He said his success Thursday owed much to a short lesson he received in Spain on Wednesday from 1999 Masters champion Olazabal.
“My driving and long game has been in order for some time,” Gonzalez said. “But I have not been scoring well all year because of my putting.
“On practice day Jose Maria gave me a little bit of advice about my putting stroke. He told me I needed to alter my posture and at first what he said was very uncomfortable. But today as the ball started to drop into the hole that discomfort started to disappear.”
The slick putting greens also helped Lawrie shoot his lowest tournament score in more than three years.
The 1999 British Open Champion has slipped to No. 225 in the world and has not won in Europe for eight years, but had a run of seven birdies in nine holes midway through his round.
“The greens were great, they were really fast and smooth and when they are like that I tend to putt well,” he said. “But when they are that quick you also have to be a bit cautious with putts so they don’t race by the hole.”
While Olazabal helped Gonzalez, the Spanish veteran wasn’t altogether pleased with his round.
“Given the circumstances I played OK,” said Olazabal, who suffers from acute rheumatism. “I have not been able to practice for a long time and while I could not say I played well neither did I play badly.”
Lawrie carded seven birdies in nine holes, including four in a row from the seventh to the 10th, while Gonzalez carded two runs of three straight birdies from the third and then from the 13th propelling him up the leaderboard.
Horsey was just 1 under after the front nine, but picked up five more birdies in his next seven holes to put himself firmly in contention.
Four players, including Englishmen Simon Khan and Richard Finch and Scotland's Gary Orr, were in a tie for fourth on 5 under.
Khan finished with a flourish, four of his six birdies coming in the final five holes after a bogey at the ninth had left him on level par halfway through his round.
Orr also had a more impressive back nine, picking up four shots in three holes with a run of birdie-eagle-birdie at the 12th, 13th and 14th.
Finch had four birdies, a bogey and an eagle, also at the par-5 13th.
France's Jean-Baptiste Gonnet was the third player to card a 66, shooting five birdies in a bogey-free round.
Six players followed on 4 under, including Richard Bland of England, Scot David Drysdale and Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey. Bland and Drysdale both had eventful rounds featuring seven birdies and three bogeys, while Huey carded six birdies and two bogeys.