sport

Garcia off to strong start

Spain's Sergio Garcia set about justifying his billing as pre-tournament favourite with an opening 69 in the Spanish Open on Thursday.

Fresh from his third place in the Players Championship at Sawgrass on Sunday, Garcia was as short as 4/1 to win his national open for the second time, 12 years after his previous success.

And the world number seven claimed a share of the early clubhouse lead at PGA Catalunya in Girona despite suffering from jet lag following his journey from Florida.

"I'm happy with my round," Garcia told Sky Sports. "I didn't have the greatest night last night and only slept for about four hours with the jet lag.

"I didn't feel extremely well with my swing but I managed to put it in play and give myself some good chances at birdies. The course is tough and the fairways are some of the tighest we have played all year.

"With the grass they have in this rough, as soon as you miss the fairway it's a guessing game."

Starting from the 10th, Garcia birdied the 12th and 13th before dropping a shot on the next, but the 34-year-old bounced back in style with an eagle three on the par-five 15th.

A bogey on the 18th took Garcia to the turn in 34 and he then left a birdie putt from 10 feet inches short of the hole on the second, but the 11-time European Tour winner then holed from a similar distance on the par-five third to get back to three under.

That was enough to share the clubhouse lead with American Peter Uihlein, Portugal's Jose-Filipe Lima and England's Graeme Storm, who suffered a three-putt bogey on the 17th which prompted three bursts of swearing and a similar number of apologies from the television commentators.

Uihlein looked set to lead on his own but bogeyed the ninth, his final hole, while Lima carded a flawless round with three birdies and no bogeys.

Garcia's fellow Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal had asked players, caddies and spectators to wear black as a mark of respect for caddie Iain McGregor, who died on Sunday while working for Alastair Forsyth in the Madeira Islands Open.

And tournament organisers had announced there would be a minute's silence at 1540 local time in honour of Zimbabwean McGregor, who suffered a fatal heart-attack on the ninth hole at Santo da Serra.

Storm's score had been mistakenly reported on the course and was subsequently amended to a 71, but that did little to ease the congestion at the top of the leaderboard.

Garcia, Uihlein and Lima were joined on three under by Scotland's Richie Ramsay, Belgium's Thomas Pieters and Holland's Robert-Jan Derksen, who had recorded a hole-in-one on the fifth by holing out from 211 yards with a five iron.