Paul Casey took the first step towards claiming his third victory on The 2003 European Tour International Schedule when a course record equalling 63 gave the 26 year old Englishman the lead after the opening round of the Telefonica Open de Madrid.
Casey, whose earlier wins came in the ANZ Championship in February and the Benson and Hedges International Open in May, opened up a one stroke advantage over home favourite Sergio Garcia at the Club de Campo course on the outskirts of the Madrid, with Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson in a share of third after their respective 65s.
Having started on the back nine, Casey had four birdies between the 13th and 18th to turn in 31 before making a superb 15 foot putt for eagle three on the 518 yard fourth and a ten footer for birdie three on the fifth to take control of the tournament.
His one poor shot of the day, a pulled drive into the trees at the par four sixth, cost him his only dropped shot, but the Englishman recovered in fine style by birdieing the next two holes to be home in 32.
Casey admitted the record equalling round had come a bit out of the blue. ``I didn't expect much especially as I decided to throw out the window the things I was working on,” he said. “I didn't hit it well the last two days, so I forgot about how I was swinging it.”
Garcia, whose last European Tour victory came on Spanish soil in the 2002 Canarias Open de España, showed how much he was relishing a return to his homeland with a sparkling opening 64 which included two eagles, a holed approach shot for an eagle two at the 406 yard fifth and a 20 foot putt for eagle three on the 540 yard seventh.
A bogey at the eighth was followed by three birdies in a row from the ninth to put the 23 year old Spaniard hard on the heels of Casey. He slipped back slightly when a wayward wedge approach to the 16th cost him a bogey five but a superb finish, with birdies at both the 17th and the 18th, saw him consolidate second.
Another player with a love of Spain is Padraig Harrington and, in particular, the Club de Campo course where he won his first European Tour title in 1996 in the Peugeot Open de España, one of three wins the Irishman has enjoyed in the Spanish sunshine.
The man currently in third spot on the Volvo Order of Merit and, like leader Casey also looking for his third win of the season, also found a liking for the par threes on the Club de Campo layout, birdieing all four of them on his way to a 65 and a share of third spot with Robert Karlsson.
The towering Swede’s best performance of the season to date came in August in his home country when he tied for third in the Scandic Carlsberg Scandinavian Masters, but gave himself the ideal platform for his first win of the year with an excellent opening 65 which featured eight birdies in total.
Further down the leaderboard, another player off to a good start was defending champion Steen Tinning, the Dane carding five birdies in total in his opening three under par 68.
Ironically, it was the same score the 41 year old carded in his opening round last year but this year’s effort was tinged with poignancy for Tinning who admitted that, regardless of how well he does this week, this will be his final European Tour event, having to cut short his career due to ongoing pain from a back injury.
“In the middle of the 2001 season I had to stop because the pain was so bad but then I came back in 2002 and tried to have a year where I did not practice so much,” he said. “That worked okay but this year when I tried to up my practice regime, it got bad again.
“I knew around the time of the Volvo PGA Championship that it wasn’t going to get any better so I made the decision then. It was a very difficult decision to make because I had been a professional on The European Tour for 16 years and it had become my way of life.
“But I am the type of player who is not happy when I cannot prepare properly to play and that was the situation I was increasingly finding myself in.
“I will miss seeing all the guys on a weekly basis and of course I will miss going out to compete, but I hope to go on and do work for Danish television on the Tour next year as well as try and help junior golf back home in Denmark, so I am looking forward very much to the future.”