You will get long odds on Paul McGinley winning his fourth Ryder Cup cap in October but the dogged Dubliner is determined to give it his best shot and you wouldn’t write him off on the evidence of his sensational opening 66 in the Madrid Masters.
Six months after undergoing a sixth operation on his left knee, the 43-year old veteran grabbed a chip-in eagle and four birdies to share fourth place, just a stroke off the pace set by England’s Luke Donald and Welsh pair Jamie Donaldson and Rhys Davies.
It was the Dubliner’s first sub-70 score for two months and while he knows that he’s more likely to be at Celtic Manor as an assistant to skipper Colin Montgomerie, he’s keen to make an improbable bid for an automatic spot or one of three wildcards.
Ranked 75th in the qualifying race, more than 800,000 points behind last man Paul Casey, McGinley said: “I have just come back from a long injury so the chances of me making the team on points are very slim. My best chance of making it is probably a pick.
“I am probably glad now that Monty has three picks but in order to get one I am going to have to do something very substantial over the summer.
“It’s probably not right to say I need to win twice because that is a big ask. But I have certainly got to show a huge amount of form over the summer to even put myself in the ball park for a pick.
“I am not discounting myself, absolutely not. I am very much focussed on trying to make that team.”
The Real Sociedad Hípica Club de Campo is right up McGinley’s street in terms of golf course design as it requires the kind of shrewd course management that is one of the hallmarks of his game.
Starting on the back nine, he birdied the 12th and 13th from close range and then chipped in for 20 yards for an eagle three at the 16th to turn in four under par.
He moved into the lead with a two putt birdie at the par-five third, got up and down from 80 yards to save par at the fourth and then drained a monster 60 foot birdie putt at the par-three seventh before finishing with a couple of solid pars.
“The great thing was no bogeys,” said McGinley, who missed just two fairways and hit 16 greens in regulation. “Last week at Wentworth I made 17 birdies and finished on two over. I made too many bogeys but today I had none, which is always nice.
“It’s a plodders course. You can’t grab it by the throat and try to shake birdies out of it. You have to plot your way around.
“There is a lot of trouble out there and if you take the golf course on, it can bite you back. Those kinds of courses suit me.
“It’s nice to get a good start. I haven’t had that all year. I’m looking forward to the rest of the week. I showed quite a bit of form last week and I want to keep it going.”
Seeking his first win since the 2005 Volvo Masters, McGinley added: “It’s amazing how quickly the time passes. I am right there but the scoring is very bunched and the wind is going to get up at some stage. You can make bogeys and double bogeys very quickly out here.”
Graeme McDowell got to three under after eight holes but bogeyed the 12th to slip back before producing a storming finish to card a four under par 68,
The Ulsterman confessed that he lost his rhythm in mid-round due to the slow pace of play but he chipped in for an eagle three at the 16th and erased a bogey at the 17th with a birdie at the last to lied just three shots off the pace.
“I just got a bit out of my rhythm with the slow pace of play and it is easy to get impatient,” McDowell said. “It was nice to chip in for eagle there on 16. It could have been better than four under but it could have been one or two under as well, so I’m happy enough and playing well.”
Co-leader Donald shook off the disappointment of the 71st hole double bogey that cost him victory last week’s BMW PGA by firing two eagles and four birdies to grab a share of the lead on seven under.
“Obviously I would have loved to take that drive at 17 again but you have to forget about the negatives,” said Donald, who hasn’t won since the 2006 Honda Classic.
Damien McGrane and Shane Lowry carded a pair of patient, three under par 69s as Peter Lawrie posted a fighting 71 by storming back from three over after seven with four birdies in a six hole stretch from the ninth.
Gary Murphy shot 73 and needs to go low today to avoid a fifth successive missed cut while adopted Irishman Simon Thornton failed to make even one birdie in a disappointing five over par 77.