France’s Thomas Levet set the pace early on the first day of the Castellon Masters in Spain, completing his front nine in 31, five under par, to lead by two shots.
Levet, who lost a play-off for the 2002 Open, posted birdies at the third, fourth, sixth, seventh and ninth, and then another at the 11th to edge ahead of five players on four under, including Sergio Garcia and Englishman John Bickerton.
Garcia, hosting the event at the club he grew up playing and where his father Victor is still the professional, had a bogey and four birdies to complete the back nine in 32, and then picked up another shot on the par-four first to stay among the chasing pack.
His playing partners, Ryder Cup team-mate Paul Casey and flamboyant Colombian Camilo Villegas, were both level par after 10.
Spaniard Pedro Linhart was another player who was four under after 13 holes but playing partner Jamie Donaldson endured a nightmare start and eventually retired at the halfway point on six over.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was one under at the turn and then fired a third birdie on the first, while Nick Dougherty and Jose Maria Olazabal, continuing his comeback from injury and fatigue, were two under after nine.
This week is the penultimate event on the European Tour this season and a number of players were battling to keep their card for 2009.
Frenchman Francois Delamontagne is one of those just below the 115-player cut-off point and he did his chances no harm by racking up three birdies in four holes to be three under after seven.