Larazabal leads in Spain, Kaymer struggles

Pablo Larazabal watches his approach shot to the fourth green during the third day of the PGA Championship.

SOTOGRANDE, Spain – Spain’s Pablo Larazabal shot a 5-under 66 to take the first-round lead Thursday in the Andalucia Masters, while Germany’s Martin Kaymer struggled in his attempt to overtake Tiger Woods in the world rankings.

Kaymer needs to win or finish in a second-place tie with no more than one other player to supplant Woods at No. 1. Kaymer shot a first-round 72, leaving him six shots off the pace and tied for 28th at Valderrama.

The 27-year-old Larazabal broke two shots clear of the field with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes during his a bogey-free round. Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell shot 68 to share second with Ireland’s Damien McGrane.

Kaymer said before the tournament that his priority was winning the second Race to Dubai as the top money-winner on the European Tour, but that could be in jeopardy after McDowell’s strong opening round.

The Northern Irishman is second in earnings behind Kaymer, and if the U.S. Open champion wins Sunday he would close the gap with four lucrative events remaining.

McDowell was Kaymer’s playing partner Thursday when the German missed a putt from 18 inches on No. 11, drove into a bunker at the next and then drove into trees at the 13th.

McDowell, whose 68 included three birdies and no bogeys, said afterward that it was too early to write off Kaymer’s chances of winning his fourth straight stroke-play tournament.

“Martin is never very far away from playing well,” he said. “And although he hit a few loose shots he generally hung in pretty well.

“But now I need to stay ahead of him, to win some tournaments and have some strong finishes to have any opportunity of winning the Race to Dubai. I think it is fair to say we are going to be seeing a lot of each other in the next few weeks.”

McDowell isn’t the only Irish golfer to present a threat to Kaymer over the remaining three rounds in Andalucia. Gareth Maybin of Northern Ireland is also in the top six, as are Ireland’s McGrane and Michael Hoey.

And although none is in the same big-hitting class as Kaymer, their controlled games are ideally suited to the narrow tree-lined fairways at Valderrama..

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