Jose Manuel Lara of Spain overcame an early double bogey to finish tied for the lead with Welsh veteran Stephen Dodd on the opening day of the European Tour’s inaugural Sicilian Open.
Lara made nine birdies to finish with a 6-under 65, matching Dodd’s earlier effort Thursday on the Donnafugata Golf Resort & Spa course.
2011 SICILIAN OPEN
The Sicilian Open is the first European Tour event of 2011 played on European soil, and is the first European Tour event ever played on the Italian island of Sicily.
The 33-year-old Lara was in danger of losing his tour card six months ago, but then won the Austrian Open in September.
“It changed everything for me,” Lara said of his second career victory. “Before I won there I thought I was going to lose my card and didn’t know what I was really going to do. But after winning there I have been able to look to the future.”
Dodd combined six birdies with two bogeys before a late eagle on the par-5 16th. The 44-year-old Dodd has won three times on the European Tour, although his last victory came at the 2006 European Open. Coincidentally, Lara tied for second in that event.
“I did a lot of good things out there today,” Dodd said. “I kept in play most of the time, hit some good iron shots and I putted well, which is always key for any good round.”
Raphael Jacquelin of France and Anthony Wall of England were one shot behind the leaders, with Chris Wood, Steve Webster, Daniel Gaunt and Matthew Zions each at 4 under 67.
Last year’s winning Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie put himself into contention with a 2-under 69, while 1999 British Open winner Paul Lawrie shot a 1-over 72.
With neither Francesco and Edoardo Molinari nor Matteo Manassero on hand, the most recognizable Italian competing is 54-year-old Costantino Rocca, who shot a 2-over 73 while taking a break from the European Senior Tour to help promote this new event.
Rocca and other Italian players wore red-white-and-green ribbons attached to their caps to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification.
This tournament marks the first European Tour event of the year on European soil, and is also the first time the European Tour has visited Sicily.
Lara's round started rather unimpressively with his double bogey on the fourth, and he admitted to finding himself in a difficult position leading up to it.
“It was a strange one,” he said. “I basically got a flier from the rough and the ball just went so far -- straight behind a tree and I couldn't do anything from there."
Before his round, Montgomerie praised the course and its inclusion on the tour.
"The course is very good,” he said. “We have a discovered a great new destination for the European Tour here in Sicily."