Pádraig Harrington is chasing a win that could give him a chance of a Ryder Cup return. But for Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne it's also about this year's Race to Dubai and the quest for World Ranking points.
Harrington took advantage of a sponsor's invitation, which means any prize money he wins in this week's Turkish Airlines Open does not count towards this year's money list.
But the $7m event at the Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort is also a Ryder Cup qualifying event and after opening with a six under par 65 to lie just a shot behind leaders Joost Luiten, Nicolas Colsaerts and Haydn Porteous, he's set his sights on a win that could quieten talk of another Ryder Cup vice-captaincy for a while longer.
“The reason I am here is because if you win one of these two events it puts you under a bit of pressure as in you’re going to be right there for the Ryder Cup,” Harrington told The Irish Times' Philip Reid, adding that next week's Nedbank Golf Challenge was another primary target.
Recovered now from neck and elbow injuries, Harrington made six birdies and missed one green in one of his most impressive rounds for some time.
"If I drive it well, I can score," Harrington said. "I drove it well. I gave myself lots of chances, just kept it nicely in play all day. A nice number of chances - converted a few of them, and it was a pretty easy six under par. I wish they were all like that.
"It's just a nice golf course to play. As you said, there's a lot of options. You'll see guys hitting different clubs off different tees on the same hole, whether you want to fade or draw it into the trouble or away from it. It's a nice test of golf like that."
Dunne didn't hit many greens or drive it at his very best after spending considerable time working on the range. But he still shot a four-under-par 67 to share 10th place, one spot better than Lowry (68), who was having a good day until he found water with a three-wood on the 18th and closed with a bogey.
The Offaly man is 62nd in the Race to Dubai has two events to move into the top 60 and qualify for the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Ranked 93rd in the world, he needs to get back up the world rankings soon, so he can qualify for next year's majors and WGCs. As things stand, he is not in any of them.
As for the leaders, Luiten finished runner-up to Masters Champion Sergio Garcia in his last European Tour appearance in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation, and his game appears to be in good shape again after carding seven birdies at Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort.
The Dutchman matched the earlier clubhouse target set by Belgian Colsaerts and South African Porteous, who had been in the first groups to tee of the first and 11th tees respectively.
Colsaerts eagled the 12th hole in his seven under par round of 64, while Porteous’s score owed much to a front nine birdie blitz, with the D+D REAL Czech Masters champion picking up five shots in his opening eight holes.
Harrington shares fourth place with BMW International champion Andres Romero with Ian Poulter in a four-way share of sixth place on five under par.
Poulter’ fellow Englishman Justin Rose, the winner of last week’s WGC-HSBC Champions, opened with a two under par round of 69 to sit five shots back. With just three events remaining in the 2017 European Tour season, Rose is seeking a strong performance in Turkey to put pressure on Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood, who bogeyed the last for a level par round of 71.
“I was in control of what I was doing all day. Took a few holes to get going but once I did, I started to get on a roll. A nice eagle on 12 that kept everything going and birdied the next, everything kind of clicked together. One of those rounds that you enjoy doing.
“I changed to another Callaway driver. It seems like I can do what I want with this one a bit more. I'm really happy with the way it's been going. I've been using it since British Masters and the results that I have had are basically because I'm a bit more comfortable off the tee and I can use that good driving, which was, one of the main or key things that I did well in the past.
“I had to stay patient on the first four or five holes. Made a few on the front and then went eagle, birdie, 12, 13, which all of the sudden, you find yourself at seven under after being four at the front and then you kind of understand or you kind of realise that it's one of those rounds that you can go very low.
“The big events are always the one that gets you tingling a little bit. Obviously, everyone would like to play well in them. I've done okay in some of them this year, and there's two more after this one. I'll try to squeeze as much as I can out of them.”
“I basically took the wrong club into the green, over the green and that's the place you don't want to go. But I was there and I felt like the putter was the best option, the safest option, because I didn't have a lot of green to work with. It was all the way uphill, so I thought, I'll just putt it up there and it went in the hole.
“It's just something I wanted to work on but putting is important every week, really. I wanted to change a couple things and I spent some extra time yesterday on the putting green and it's good to see that it paid out today.
“Coming down the stretch and trying to win a golf tournament, it builds confidence. I knew I was playing well but it's nice to see some results, as well coming your way. Hopefully I can keep the same feeling coming down these last three tournaments here.”
“I needed a really big start and put myself in the right foot heading into these next couple of weeks to get me into DP World, so to shoot a bogey-free 64 is exactly what I was looking for.
“It’s vital to keep the momentum going and I managed to do that with a really good par saves. Then made obviously some really good birdie putts, which obviously helps the scorecard. I have been working quite hard on my putting over the last couple of days, and I really found something that maybe I'd been battling with for the last couple of years. Really starting to feel a little bit of confidence over the flat stick.”
“I think whenever you play golf and don't make any mistakes, obviously it makes it easier to have a decent score. There was a couple of decent par putts in there which were key to holding the round together, and there was a couple of par fives there, which putts lipped-out when they had opportunities to go in.
"It was a nice round of golf. I'm happy with that. I didn't hit the ball very well Tuesday afternoon when I was here practising for six hours on the range. But you know, just going through old notes and working through the basics of what I need to do to hit the ball well seemed to work on Wednesday, and I hit it great today.”
First round scores
64 H Porteous (RSA), N Colsaerts (Bel), J Luiten (Ned),
65 A Romero (Arg), P Harrington (Irl),
66 I Poulter (Eng), M Pavon (Fra), K Aphibarnrat (Tha), E Pepperell (Eng),
67 Paul Dunne (Irl), L Westwood (Eng), T Hatton (Eng), S Kjeldsen (Den),
68 J Campillo (Esp), J Suri (USA), Shane Lowry (Irl), C Wood (Eng), D Drysdale (Sco),
69 M Fitzpatrick (Eng) , J Rose (Eng) , N Elvira (Esp) , G Bourdy (Fra), T Olesen (Den) , M Fraser (Aus), J Smith (Eng) , B Wiesberger (Aut), T Pieters (Bel) , A Sullivan (Eng) , P Uihlein USA) , A Otaegui (Esp) , S Gallacher (Sco), M Southgate (Eng) ,
70 L Bjerregaard (Den), A Johnston (Eng), D Frittelli (RSA), D Horsey (Eng), P Waring (Eng), L Slattery (Eng), B Stone (RSA), T Bjørn (Den), M Siem (Ger),
71 A Altuntas (Tur), C Shinkwin (Eng), G Coetzee (RSA), A Björk (Swe), M Wallace (Eng), M Kaymer (Ger), T Fleetwood (Eng), R Ramsay (Sco),
72 F Zanotti (Par), S Hend (Aus), A Connelly (Can), R Rock (Eng), A Levy (Fra), S Brazel (Aus), J Wang (Kor), M Warren (Sco), B Hebert (Fra),
73 S Jamieson (Sco), V Dubuisson (Fra), R Fox (Nzl), H Li (Chn), H Stenson (Swe), L Acikalin (am) (Tur),
74 H Tanihara (Jpn), D Lipsky (USA), A Wall (Eng), M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), E Molinari (Ita), A Dodt (Aus),
75 R Paratore (Ita), N Bertasio (Ita), G Storm (Eng), R Wattel (Fra),
76 R Sterne (RSA), D Burmester (RSA),
79 T Yamac (am) (Tur),
81 P Larrazábal (Esp)