Graeme McDowell began his bid to keep his Ryder Cup place exactly how he wanted today – with a birdie.
The 30-year-old Northern Irishman, well aware that the number of automatic places in Colin Montgomerie’s team next year is down from 10 to nine, was among the early starters in the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre.
McDowell remained one under par after four holes and that put him one behind Spaniard Ignacio Garrido, whose one cup cap came at Valderrama 12 years ago.
Garrido birdied the first and second as the year-long race started in light rain and under a glorious rainbow over the Alpine resort.
There is certainly a pot of gold waiting at the end for all those who make the European team. The player who finishes in the ninth and last qualifying spot is sure to have earned over €1.25m to get there.
Four places are up for grabs from world ranking points collected between now and the end of next August and the next five will come off European Tour earnings.
Montgomerie then adds three wild cards, one more than Nick Faldo had at his disposal last year.
McDowell was playing with Darren Clarke, who lost out to Paul Casey and Ian Poulter for a pick. The 41-year-old bogeyed the short 13th, his fourth, to slip to one over.
Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, joint third in last month’s US PGA and paired together for the opening two rounds, were among the later starters.
Last year’s Masters champion Trevor Immelman, playing only his third tournament since May because of a left wrist injury, matched McDowell’s birdie on the 405-yard 10th, but then dropped shots on the 12th and 13th.