Sergio Garcia co-leads early at Euro Tour event he's hosting

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Sergio Garcia co-leads early at Euro Tour event he's hosting

Euro Tour

Sergio Garcia co-leads early at Euro Tour event he's hosting

Sergio Garcia wasn’t exactly in a hospitable mode in the opening round of the $2.4 million Andalucia Valderrama Masters. Actually, the Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation, to give the tournament its proper name.

Normally hosts let their guests win, but the Masters champion was having none of that. Not on one of his favorite courses.

Garcia played the 1997 Ryder Cup venue in 5-under 66 and shares the lead with Dutchman Joost Luiten. They are one shot ahead of England’s Robert Rock and Garcia’s compatriot Pablo Larrazabal.

American Paul Peterson lies in solo fifth place after a 68. The former Oregon State player needs to maintain that form over the next three days to ensure European playing rights next year.

This is the last counting order of merit event for players not exempt into the WGC-HSBC Champions and the final three Rolex Series events. The left-hander is 121st on the money list, with the top 100 keeping full cards for next season.

Garcia has no worries in that department. He hasn’t had to worry about his playing rights since he turned professional in 1999.

The tournament host had seven birdies and just two dropped shots around the normally tough Real Club Valderrama in Sotogrande, Southern Spain.

“It was nice,” said Garcia. “It was gettable because it was soft but you still had to hit good shots, and I was able to do that for the most part of the day. I’m very happy with my round.

“The game was on pretty much all day. I hit my irons very well. I didn’t drive the ball well on the eighth hole, but I was pretty much spot on there and I made some nice putts here and there. The greens were rolling quite fast, more than anything the back nine was even faster than the front. Overall I think it was very solid.”

Garcia will be a hard man to shift from the top of the leaderboard considering he’s quite literally at home this week. Five of his 13 European Tour wins have come on Spanish soil, including the 2011 Andalucia Masters when he became the first Spaniard to win a stroke-play event on Valderrama.

Luiten is seeking his sixth European Tour win, and first since last year’s KLM Open in his homeland. He’s 55th on the European Tour money list, and needs to stay inside the top 50 to make the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.

“It was early when I teed off and I thought the back nine was playing tough, playing long and the ball wasn’t going as far,” Luiten said. “The 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th are pretty much into the wind, so you’ve got to be patient if you’re playing that nine first.

“Finally, on my back nine, the front nine, I started to hit some really good iron shots and I hit some really close for easy birdies.”

Easy isn’t usually a word many associate with one of Europe’s toughest tracks, where a premium is placed on accuracy off the tee and a delicate touch on fast greens. Expect scores to go higher as the week progresses.

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