It was Spaniards young and old that dominated the first round of the Omega European Masters today. Two days of glorious sunshine and clear skies have firmed up the notoriously difficult greens on the Severiano Ballesteros course, making accurate drives essential for anyone wishing to stay in contention.
The last two times an Hispanic name topped the leader board after the first round of the Omega European Masters, the players in question went on to win the tournament without ever dropping their lead. Could Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez now follow in the footsteps of Eduardo Romero, the oldest player ever to win the tournament in 2000, and Ricardo Gonzalez who won in 2001, to maintain his lead wire to wire? Only time will tell, of course, but after a 6-under first round of 65, his chances of a second consecutive victory after the BMW International Open are certainly intact. However, whilst Jimenez compared his recent good performance to that of a good wine that has finally reached maturity, the much younger Sergio Garcia owed his first round 66 to the relaxing atmosphere of his family chalet and the benefits of a self-prepared breakfast. Garcia is sharing his chalet - less than a minute's walk from the clubhouse - with Ryder Cup team mate and friend Luke Donald. Judging by their first round scores, the chance to get away from the hotels certainly seems to have done both players the power of good, despite the mounting psychological pressure of the Ryder Cup. Yesterday, a visibly relaxed Garcia touched on the fact that many of the players bring their families to Crans-Montana - a recurring theme at the tournament year after year. The reason is simple: "This is a beautiful place to come and bring the family. You find out that pretty much all the players bring their families out here. There is a tournament going on but it is a good week to enjoy with the ones you love."
Also in the chasing pack one shot behind Jimenez were France's Mark Farry, Peter Hedblom of Sweden and England's Peter Baker. After a terrible season in which he made the cut in only 5 out of 17 tournaments and his best finish was top 40 at the Dutch Open, Farry confessed to being "extremely happy" with his first round score.
Europe's number one and title sponsor Omega's other golfing ambassador was slightly off the first day's pace. Ernie Els came home 2 under after a shaky start over the back nine, recovering over the front nine with a run of 5 birdies on the front nine, including three consecutive birdies on holes 5, 6 and 7.
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