Paul McGinley opened his Open de Andalucia account with a two under par 68 to lead the Irish charge with Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin, three shots behind a quintet of leaders.
It’s a good start for a man desperate to regain some form and while the prize fund is small, the Dubliner is grateful that he at least has the chance to play a tournament on European soil.
The €1m event, which has been bankrolled by promoter Miguel Angel Jimenez through his Fade and Draw Target organization, is the 13th event of the European Tour schedule but only the second to be played on the continent proper. It’s why it’s called the European Tour International Schedule.
That’s the reality of the modern day European Tour, which relies heavily on Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the US to offer its members an average of an event a week.
The European Tour used to kick off as late as April with events in France, Spain and Italy. But while there are just 27 events in Europe compared to 24 around the world, Dubliner McGinley is not going to start complaining.
Apart from the two World Golf Championships held in the US in February and March, just one of the first 14 tournaments boasts a prize fund in excess of €2m ($2.8m).Pickings are slim for players ranked outside the the world’s top 50.
In fact, anyone who skipped the Avantha Masters in Delhi was left with a month to twiddle their thumbs between the Dubai Desert Classic and last week’s Sicilian Open.
“The European Tour is a fantastic schedule if you are in the top 50 in the world,” McGinley said. “If you are not in the top 50 in the world it is disapppointing. But the reality of the situation is that we are in the middle of a worldwide crisis economically, especially in Europe.
“Spain, Portugal, Italy, Britain, Ireland … we are all struggling and in the middle of a worldwide financial crisis and Europe is struggling more than most. It is ony natural and totally understandable that we don’t have the strongest schedule in Euorpe as we would like.
“All I can say is that we are very fortunate that we do have Asia and the Middle East to have at least some tournaments early in the season because otherwise we would really be struggling. What can you do? It is a tough world out there, a very tough world.
“But there are a lot more important things going on around the world than professional golfers moaning about not having enough tournaments to play on the European Tour. As the season goes on we will end up playing for a lot of money in plenty of tournaments and it will turn out to be a good season.”
McGinley is hoping that his 68, which bookended four birdies between a couple of bogeys, is just a taste of good things to come as he bids to haul himself back into golf’s elite at the age of 44.
Darren Clarke, who opened with a one under 69, is also hoping to end a three-year victory drought with the help of experienced caddie Ricci Roberts.
Damien McGrane signed for a level par 70 with Michael Hoey carding a one-over 71 and Shane Lowry a scrappy 75.
Lowry missed the cut on his return to action following a wrist injury last week and he will need a round in the mid 60s today to avoid a second successive failure in just his second start of the year.
“Bad day today,” Lowry told his 2,600 plus Twitter followers. “Really need a good one tomorrow. Need to find somethin fast!”