Branden Grace (Getty Images)
For the second year running Nicolas Colsaerts will have to swiftly overcome defeat to a South African at the Volvo World Match Play Championship after the defending champion was beaten 4 and 3 by Branden Grace on the opening day at Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort.
Grace raced into a five-hole lead at the turn before Colsaerts won the tenth and 12th to get back to three down with five to play.
The Belgian's hopes of an unlikely win effectively ended when he bogeyed the 14th and Grace deservedly closed out a 4 and 3 win on the next, but in the group format he can still qualify for the last 16.
The big hitter did not in fact win either of his two group games last year, halving with Charl Schwartzel and losing to Retief Goosen, but went through after a play-off with Schwartzel after the former Masters Tournament champion also lost to Goosen.
“I made a good birdie on the second hole, which was key to get off to a fast start, and then I think it was a 45 footer on the third hole which just kept the momentum going,” said Grace – something of a Volvo specialist after woinning the Volvo Golf Champions and Volvo China Open last year.
“It seemed I hit a good shot every time Nicolas hit a bad shot, which kind of opened the door for myself the first nine.
“I didn't really make a lot of mistakes, but I didn't really make the birdies I was the first nine. But it was nice to hang in there to the end and just make pars in.”
Carl Pettersson, who has rejoined The European Tour in a bid to qualify for the Ryder Cup, gave an early demonstration of what he is capable of in Bulgaria.
The Swede showed his match play prowess with a comfortable victory over Dane Thorbjørn Olesen in their opening group game.
Pettersson went in front when a par was good enough to win the second hole and was never caught, four birdies and 11 pars enough to secure a 4 and 3 victory on the 15th green.
Arguably the best game of the day saw Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño beat Jamie Donaldson on the 18th after Donaldson threatened to escape with a half after being four down with seven to play.
The Welshman birdied the 12th, won the 14th after hitting a recovery shot left-handed and got back to one down with another birdie on the 16th, but then saw his birdie on the 18th matched by Fernandez-Castaño.
Colsaerts’ Ryder Cup team-mates Graeme McDowell, Francesco Molinari and Peter Hanson were all victorious, but the man who instigated the Miracle of Medinah, England’s Ian Poulter, was beaten 3 and 2 by Thongchai Jaidee.
“He started very well,” said Jaidee. “I think he putted well - the thing with this course, if you miss a lot of fairways and a lot of tee shots it's very tricky.
“I’m very happy with my game.”
American Bo Van Pelt and South African Richard Sterne registered the only halve of the opening day, with the remaining 16 group matches taking place over two sessions on Friday.
McDowell’s 5 and 3 victory margin over England’s Chris Wood was the biggest of the day, and the former US Open Champion is enjoying the set-up at the spectacular venue.
“I played solidly,” said the Northern Irishman. “It’s important to get off to a nice start. For the guys that lose today, it's not the end of the world - they can still go out and try to win tomorrow again.
“To get the win under the belt today is very important to take the pressure off somewhat going into tomorrow, but you certainly can't take it lightly. If the game goes the other way in the morning, I still have a job to do tomorrow afternoon.
“I enjoy the golf course. It's very fiery, very linksy. I think it suits my style of play, so I was happy the way I hit the golf ball today, starting to get my head around these greens and looking forward to some more good golf tomorrow.”