Darren Clarke remained in holiday mood when he opened with a five under par 65 to trail leader Gregory Bourdy by just two shots in the Iberdrola Open in Mallorca.
Five weeks after his last tour start and recharged following a two-week break in the Bahamas, the Ulsterman had seven birdies and two bogeys at Pula Golf Club to share third place.
“Played really nicely and made just two mistakes a made bogey off both of them at 12 and 13 but overall, very good,” Clarke said. “Good start.”
Clarke started on the back nine and birdied the 10th and 11th before recovering from those mistakes with birdies at the 15th, first, third, sixth and seventh.
“My distance control was very good today and I putted nicely and just played nicely,” he said. “I have had two weeks holidays on the beach in the Bahamas and practiced a little bit. But it has been good to get away from the game a little bit and back playing again.”
Frenchman Bourdy shot a seven under par, course record 63 to lead by a shot from England’s Danny Willett with Clarke tied for thid with James Nixon. Welsman Rhys Davies was three behind on four under with Damien McGrane the next best of the Irish in joint 10th after a 68.
“It’s nice to have a little bit of a break and just get away from it,” Clarke said. “We had a good threeball today and Rhys was playing very nicely and it was very good.”
Clarke has falled to 124th in the world this year and admitted that he took a break to ease his frustration.
“Sometimes in this game when you work and work and work and don’t really see anything, it is time to take a little bit of a break and get away from it,” he confessed. “And that’s what I’ve done.”
An admirer of the course, which was redesigned by Jose Maria Olazabal, he said: “I am very surprised for a resort golf course. I think it is very, very good.
“It’s a stern test to say the least and the greens are going to firm up as the week goes on and it’s going to get tougher and tougher.
“There are a lot of shots you have to play out there and the water is in play an awful lot. As I say, it is a very good test.
“Jose Maria has done a fantastic job on the redesign. I played here many years ago and I could hardly rememebr the golf course so that is a sign of how good a job he has actually done.”
McGrane had five birdies and three bogeys in his 68 as Paul McGinley bogeyed his final hole, the ninth, to post an even par 70.
Offaly’s Shane Lowry complained of tiredness as he carded a disappointing, two over 72 featuring three bogeys and just one birdie.
“Very flat day today,” he tweeted. “Couldn’t get it going. Feeling tired after a long few weeks. Need some energy for tomorrow.”
Simon Thornton also shot 72 as tournament invitee Gary Murphy rescued a four over 74 with three successive birdies on his back nine.
However, it was a bad day at the office for Glasson’s Colm Moriarty, who finished the day second last in the field after an 80.
The Athlone man was two under after five but then doubled the seventh and bogeyed the ninth to turn in one over 36.
One of the late starters, he found the back nine a nightmare and came home in 44 with four bogeys, a double and a triple bogey on his card.