Martin Kaymer’s made a rocky start in his bid to claim the world number one ranking at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters in Sotogrande today.
The German needs to win or share second place with no more than one other player if he, rather than the absent Lee Westwood, is to succeed Tiger Woods in top spot when the American’s 281-week occupancy ends on Monday.
Kaymer could only card a one-over-par round of 72, however, to find himself six strokes adrift of first-round leader Pablo Larrazabal.
Three successive bogeys on the back nine ruined Kaymer’s round, after he reached the turn at level par, although he at least showed signs of recovery with birdie at the par-four 16th.
By contrast, Spaniard Larrazabal was flawless as he carded an impressive 66.
The 27-year-old closed with birdies at 16 and 17 to open up a two-stroke advantage over Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell.
McDowell, who claimed the vital final point at Celtic Manor to win the Ryder Cup for Europe earlier this month, enjoyed a steady day with three birdies to help him share second with Damien McGrane.
McDowell is currently second in the European money list and his steady day improved his slight chances of catching runaway leader Kaymer, with €500,000 on offer to the winner this week.
“I’ve got a lot of golf ahead of me yet,” McDowell told Sky Sports.
“I’ll have to play my best golf to catch him – even then my best may not be enough.”
Gareth Maybin was in a two-way tie for fourth with India’s Shiv Kapur after he carded birdies at the 4th and 10th holes.
A group of nine players stood a stroke further back and included Ryder Cup winners Francesco Molinari and Miguel Angel Jimenez, with Ross McGowan and John Parry joining them to lead the English charge.