Chalk up a small moral victory to Matt Wallace in the opening round of the $2.35 million Portugal Masters. The Englishman won the opening skirmish against playing competitor Sergio Garcia. Who will ultimately win the war?
Both have a point to prove before next week’s Ryder Cup. Garcia, despite what he says, wants to prove he was worthy of receiving one of Thomas Bjorn’s wild-card picks, while Wallace will deep down want to show the European captain he should be making the trip to Paris instead of Garcia.
The two players have no problem keeping up with the other’s progress. They’ve been drawn together for the first two rounds along with defending champion Lucas Bjerregaard.
Wallace finished two shots ahead of Garcia after posting a 7-under 64 to tie the lead with countryman Eddie Pepperell, another who made a strong bid for next week’s team only to receive a negative phone call from Bjorn.
Wallace began on the 10th tee and had a shaky start over the first two holes before chipping in for eagle at the par-5 12th hole. He added five birdies to take the early clubhouse lead.
“It wasn’t start on the first two holes I wanted but managed to get out of there with two pars and then the chip in on 12 was nice to get the tournament going,” Wallace said.
“I didn’t feel too comfortable out there. A couple left shots which I haven’t had for the last few weeks. So I need to work on that.”
Wallace is the only player to win three times on this year’s European Tour. One of those victories came in the Made in Denmark, the last qualifying event for the Ryder Cup. Many felt that victory should have earned him a spot in Bjorn’s team but, with five rookies already in the side, Bjorn opted for veteran Ryder Cupper Garcia.
The Spaniard returned a 5-under 66 to be joint fourth when he finished. A good start, but it could’ve been better.
“I played well, but I still like I left easily three or four shots out there,” Garcia said. “Had a couple of easy birdies putts. It was nice to play at a good level after a little break and have a nice round.”
Garcia hasn’t played since the Wyndham Championship a month ago, and only turned up in Portugal to prep for Paris. He says how he plays this week will have no bearing on how he performs in his ninth Ryder Cup.
“I’ve had three or four week breaks before,” he said. “More than anything it’s nice to be out there to get some of the competition juices going and try to get as many good rounds as possible. Next week is different, the pressure’s different, the atmosphere’s different.”
As they say in that other ball sport: Advantage, Wallace.