Sergio Garcia began his quest for the perfect end to 2017 with a bogey-free 67 to sit just a shot off the lead after day one of the Australian PGA Championship.
The Spaniard has enjoyed a stellar year with wins at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation to go with his maiden Major Championship victory at the Masters Tournament.
The second event of the 2018 Race to Dubai saw him playing in Australia for the first time since 2010 and his five under par start left him one shot behind home duo Adam Bland and Jordan Zunic.
Garcia set the target on a morning that saw two short rain delays at RACV Royal Pines Resort before Bland and Zunic got past him in the afternoon, with Australians occupying 13 of the top 14 places.
Marc Leishman, Daniel Nisbet, Peter Senior and Michael Wright were alongside Garcia at five under.
Bland is playing just his 25th European Tour event but had his two best results last season, finishing third at the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth and in a tie for fifth at the Fiji International.
The 35 year old started with four pars but then made six birdies in seven holes from the fifth and added another gain on the 16th before dropping a shot on the last.
“I saw a couple of leaderboards and saw Garcia was the best in the morning at five under so once I got to six under, then I knew it," he said.
"I was just trying to make a few more birdies coming in, especially on the par fives there, I was going for it in two but it didn't pan out. It would have been nice to not make a bogey on the last but six under is still six under."
Zunic played eight events on the Challenge Tour last season but his best European Tour finish was a top ten here in the the 2016 season.
I wouldn't say that it was amazing but it was good - Sergio Garcia
The 25 year old started with a bogey on the tenth but got on a hot run of his own, making five birdies in seven holes from the 14th. Another birdie came on the sixth and, while he dropped a shot on the seventh, a closing eagle flew him up the leaderboard.
"It's exactly how you want to start a golf tournament so I'm absolutely over the moon," he said.
“I feel like this was coming. Obviously I didn't know how soon it was going to come but I'm glad. It's nice, it's good for the confidence which has been a bit low lately, that's for sure."
Starting on the tenth, Garcia rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on the 11th but any chance of getting some early momentum was halted as play was delayed for 20 minutes due to flooded greens on the 12th.
Garcia then went over the green with his second on the par five 15th but made a smart up-and-down to turn in 34.
A ragged tee-shot on the third looked like it would leave the 14-time European Tour winner looking at a bogey but he hit a stunning recovery to make a birdie.
An approach to tap-in range on the sixth had him out in the lead on his own and when the 37 year old hit another smart second into the eighth, he was five under.
"I wouldn't say that it was amazing but it was good," he said. "The most positive thing for me would be to go a bogey-free round, which I didn't realise until we got done.
"I feel like mentally I'm not quite as sharp as I was probably a month ago or so. I guess the year is kind of draining a little bit.
"Hopefully I'm able to do more of the same but every day's different. Every day's a different story and it also depends on the weather. If it gets windy it can be quite tricky, this course."
Senior had four European Tour wins between 1986 and 1992 and he rolled back the years in his 67.
The 58 year old - who won the Australian Masters as recently as 2015 - birdied the sixth, eighth, ninth, 13th and 15th.
Leishman was one over after seven holes but made a hat-trick of birdies from the eighth before recording a third bogey of the day on the 14th. A chip-in eagle on the 15th then catapulted him up the leaderobard and when he birdied the 16th and last, he was alongside Garcia in the clubhouse.
Nisbet was one over after four holes but made three birdies in a row from the seventh and added to them on the 12th, 15th and 17th, while Wright had a birdie-birdie finish.
Greg Chalmers, Steve Dartnall, Rhein Gibson, Lucas Herbert James Nitties, Brett Rankin and Cameron Smith were all at four under, a shot clear of a group containing Dane Joachim B Hansen.
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