Austria’s dejection at failing to qualify for the World Golf Championships – World Cup turned to elation when they took the place of Thailand in the field at the Real Club de Golf De Sevilla in Spain and then proceeded to fire a 12 under par 60 in the fourballs to share the first round lead with Ireland.
Markus Brier and Martin Wiegele missed out by three strokes in the pre-qualifying competition in Mexico last month, but their initial disappointment was soon quashed when Thailand withdrew from the 24-team event and Austria were invited to take their place in the field.
Entrusted with the task of representing Austria in the country’s debut in the event, Brier and Wiegele responded with a dozen glorious birdies – eight of them for Wiegele – to out-score their playing partners, England, by a shot.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley matched the Austrians’ score of 60 to tie for the lead, with England third on 61, Japan next on 62 and host nation Spain fifth on 63.
Brier, who finished 82nd on the Volvo Order of Merit, admitted: “We were definitely disappointed not to qualify, although with other teams pulling out we didn’t even need to travel to Mexico for the qualifier.
“We missed out by three shots then heard a few days later from The European Tour that we were in. It wasn’t too expensive a trip as the Austrian Federation organised the air fares and the tournament covered the accommodation costs. We also had the additional benefit of getting experience at foursomes and fourballs, even though we missed out on a qualifying place.”
Ireland, like Austria, shot symmetrical halves of 30 but, unlike their co-leaders, missed an opportunity to birdie the last and shoot a round of 59. Harrington said: “We would have like that. I was certainly in my mind and it was on Paul’s as well. I know it’s fourball but 59 is something of a milestone. Hardly anybody shoots 59, but we can’t be too disappointed with 60.
“To be right in there at the start is all you need on Thursday. It’s a case of keeping yourself in position” added Harrington, who admitted that the first two rounds were costly 12 months ago at Kiawah Island in America when the Irish opened with rounds of 74 and 77 before rocketing up the leaderboard at the weekend with 66-67.
McGinley provided the day’s key moments for Ireland, holing twice from bunkers – at the second for a birdie and the 13th for an eagle three – to assist his country’s cause. He said: “I can’t remember the last time I holed a bunker shot and I hole two in one round! I did fancy the shots and felt I could hole them and it certainly helped our momentum.”
England’s Luke Donald opened with a brace of birdies and also birdied the last hole as he and Paul Casey signed for a round of 61. Casey commented: “We thought eight or nine under would be a good score today so it was good to end up with a nice little 61.”
Donald added: “We didn’t really make anything outside 15 feet. It wasn’t as it we were holing long putts but I think we can draw on our good play together in the Walker Cup, even though it was five years ago. I think foursomes is obviously the key to this week and we are looking forward to it.”
Spain, after a sluggish start, caught fire on the back nine as Sergio Garcia made two birdies and an eagle between the 12th and 15th while Miguel Angel Jiménez contributed one more birdie at the 16th to leave Spain in fifth place.
Defending champions South Africa, represented by last year’s winning combination of Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini, carded a six under par 66, despite having two bogeys on their card.