There's nothing like a crisis to concentrate the mind but Gary Murphy has managed to avoid thinking about "the dark side" in the Madrid Masters and made a positive start.

Damien McGrane and Gary Murphy are tied for ninth in the Madrid MastersWith time running out in his bid to save his tour card, the Kilkenny man opened with a five under par 67 at the Centro Nacional de Golf by simply focussing on his game rather than the grim reality of his situation.

"I would be lying it I said I wasn't thinking about stuff off the course," Murphy confessed. "That's probably where I have fallen down during the summer - concentrating too much on that and not concentrating on my golf.

"I have been thinking of stuff when I shouldn't have been thinking of stuff, instead of just focussing on my game. I have been doing that a lot better the last couple of weeks and my game is in good shape."

Ranked 145th in the Race to Dubai, Murphy is almost €70,000 outside the top 115 who earn a free ride for the 2010 season.

That means he needs a few good weeks or a top-4 finish in the Spanish capital to avoid making a trip to the Qualifying School for the firs time since 2002.

Given his natural talent, it seems amazing that Murphy has found himself sweating to secure his card again.

Then again, he is not as long or as straight as he once was and he is certainly not holing as many putts as he has in other years.

Every season he has had one big week that has taken all the pressure off.

In 2004 it was the Barclays Scottish Open, where he was fourth and earned nearly €160,000. In 2005 he was sixth in the European Open (€ 83,206) and 11th in both the BMW at Wentworth (€ 62,457) and the Dunlop Masters (€40,956). 

In 2006 he sailed far too close to the wind. Following a third place finish in the Russian Open worth €44,132, he went to final event in Mallorca in the 118th and final safe place on the Order of Merit and produced a great performance. Tied for the lead with a round to go, he knew his card was safe and frittered away a great chance to win his first title and ended up 13th behind Niclas Fasth.

In 2007 it was another good Russian Open that gave him the freedom to finish off the year with confidence while last year he got it done early by sharing third place behind Richard Finch in the irish Open at Adare.

In fact, the Irish Open has been his best event so far this year. But that was at Baltray in May, when just a few hundreds yards from his home, he took away €30,300 for a share of 25th. 

The reality is that his best finish this season is a share of 14th in the Austrian Open.

After the first round in Madrid he is in a six-way tie for ninth place with Damien McGrane - five shots behind Manuel Quiros (62) and three behind Sergio Garcia (64).

He will earn around €26,000 if he remains there but needs something better with only three events to go after this one. 

"I played really well, struck the ball well off the tee and struck my irons beautifully," he said. "Putted okay too. Hit the ball pretty close all day. I am quite happy. I had a lot of good yardages today, so you could commit to the shot. I feel like I am starting to swing the club a lot better the last couple of weeks. I played lovely last week in Scotland just didn't hole any putts. Continued with that today.  I am just trying to concentrate on the golf. All the clichés - be more patient and not get in my own way."

Asked what was getting in the way, he joked: "The dark side of the room. Don't have to go there! It is a long year, a lot of tournaments. Just silly stuff. Tired. Playing certain tournaments tired. Probably playing a bit too much and getting down on myself for no reason and then trying too hard. Trying to graft your way out of it. It is not really my way. 

"I am better if I am relaxed and play the course as it is in front of me. I was trying to do things that I don't normally do really and I had  a bit of a wake up call in Gleneagles because I played fantastic that week without playing my best golf. I really have to finish it off with putting really and I haven't been doing that all year."

Darren Clarke, Peter Lawrie and Michael Hoey all shot 69s. But Clarke followed an outward 31 with a 38 and needed a birdie at the his final hole to break 70 after some horrors in the short game department.

“I played the front nine like Ben Hogan but then played the back nine like Hulk Hogan,” he said.

Gareth Maybin (70) and Shane Lowry (71) are just inside the cut mark. As for the injured Paul McGinley, he had yet to receive the results of an MRI scan on the strained tendons in his left hand but feels confident he will be back in Portugal next week.