Damien McGrane (Getty Images)
A brilliant seven under par 65 gave Damien McGrane a two shot lead after the first round of the Trophée Hassan II.
The 40 year old kicked off with an eagle on the par five tenth at Golf du Palais Royal and, although he had three bogeys on his card, there were also eight birdies - four of them in his last five holes.
McGrane, whose only European Tour victory came by nine shots in the 2008 Volvo China Open, is two ahead of Spaniard Alejandro Cañizares.
“I played beautifully out there today and I am delighted with it,” said McGrane.
“I got off to a fast start and managed to keep it going so it was a very good day. The conditions were fairly tough with the warm wind and it was very testing out there, but I managed to putt very well out there and hence the reason I have the good score.
“This golf course is beautiful and if you play well it can give you plenty of opportunities. I am playing well at the moment – I played well last week and could have finished a lot better but this is a new week a new opportunity and I am very thankful to have got off to such a good start.
“I made a great start today with the eagle and that really got the confidence going early and I managed to continue that and finish strongly so all in all it is a nice feeling.
“Both Richie Ramsay and myself played really well out there today and it became a bit of a putting competition between the two of us!
“This is a beautiful golf course and there is something very special about playing on the King’s course. As European Tour players we are very privileged to play great courses most of the time and we always get well looked after wherever we go but this week is very special indeed.”
Cañizares was pleased with his opening 67 after a steady rather than spectacular start to the year.
The 29 year old has made five cuts in five events on The European Tour, with a best finish of tenth in the Avantha Masters, as well as finishing fifth in the Mayakoba Classic on the US PGA Tour.
“I have been playing well so far this year and I am just waiting for everything to come together. I hope that this is the week it comes together,” he said.
“It was a good round today. It was very steady and I managed to putt well on the greens so all in all it was good. I didn’t play great last week but I managed to find a better rhythm on the greens this week and feel a lot more comfortable.”
Spain's Jorge Campillo, Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen, Italian Ryder Cup star Edoardo Molinari, Welshman Phillip Price, Scot Richie Ramsay and English pair Kenneth Ferrie and Graeme Storm were all bunched together on four under, three off the pace.
Italian 18 year old Matteo Manassero, needing a win to qualify for the Masters Tournament at Augusta, kept his dreams alive with a three under 69.
“I am happy to have made seven birdies on a tough course because I took my chances at the right moments but you can easily make bogeys because I only missed two shots all day and dropped four shots,” said last week’s runner-up.
“This course penalises you a lot for the smallest mistakes, but it is never going to be a bad round if you can make seven birdies.
“Obviously I would love to win here and match the victory with qualifying for the Masters. It is definitely a goal but I just have to see what happens. The main thing is I am playing good golf and putting well but you really have to be careful around this golf course.”
Storm reached seven under with two to play, but after five successive birdies he double-bogeyed the short eighth and dropped another on the last.
"A month ago I wanted to pack the game in, so where I am now is a massive leap forward," said the former Open de France champion.