Irish contingent off to a flyer

MEATH native Damien McGrane capped an outstanding day for the eight-strong Irish contingent in the first round of the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama when he birdied the 18th for a three under par 68 to join Graeme McDowell in 2nd place in the €€3 million event.

While McGrane was undoubtedly delighted with a blemish-free start to the event, he had good reason to rue some gilt edged chances that he created, most notably at the par 3 15th where he hit an immaculate four iron to six feet but missed the putt for a two.

However, he made up for the lapse in spades with the birdie at the last which followed previous gains at the 3rd and 14th and fifteen safe pars.

Gareth Maybin, the 30-year-old former amateur international from Ballyclare near Belfast, had never seen Valderrama before he arrived here on Monday. So it was vital for him to have a man at his side who had worked the course many times previously, and caddied for Paul McGinley when he captured the Volvo Masters over the formidable and decidedly tricky Robert Trent Jones-designed lay-out in 2005.

Maybin duly absorbed everything that Darren Reynolds had to say and went out and shot a 69 in a round that bore a remarkable resemblance to that of his fellow Ulsterman McDowell. They both birdied the 1st and 4th and stuck rigidly to par from there to the 18th where McDowell birdied and Maybin had a “mere” par. For sure, though, he wasn’t complaining!

“Any time you go round this place without dropping shots, you have to be very pleased,” he said.

“I was out early when the greens were perfect and there was no wind. It was my first time at Valderrama but I have a good caddie who has won around here. I had watched the Volvo Masters on television over the years but it was a little trickier than I had expected. You need a lot of patience.”

Michael Hoey is another who has been running into a vein of form of late and this time signed for a fine round of 70 that contained birdies at the ninth, 11th and 14th.

Peter Lawrie has been in great form of late and got off to a dream start with birdies at each of the opening three holes.

He dropped one at the par five 4th but was actually leading the tournament at three under when he made another birdie at the 10th. However, disaster lay in wait as he ran up double bogeys at the 14th and 17th and had to be content with a 72.

Paul McGinley “employed” the famous and close friend Formula One personality Eddie Jordan and they were also looking very solid after the opening nine holes which were completed in 34, one under, with a single birdie at the eighth where McGinley wedged to six feet and tapped in the putt.

He made a great par at the 9th after hooking his tee shot behind towering trees to the left of the fairway but things went from bad to worse for the successful Ryder Cup vice captain from there home. He dropped shots at the 12th, 15th, 16th and 18th now finds himself struggling to make the cut.

Darren Clarke atoned for a shaky start with back to back birdies at the 14th and 15th to move one under only to give the shots back at the 16th and 18th. He signed for a round of 72.

Shane Lowry stole four birdies from the golf course but made six costly concessions, so he has a bit of work to do today to qualify for the weekend.

Doing so would improve his prospects of getting among the 60 players who qualify for the lucrative season-ending Dubai World Championship on November 25-28.

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