Murphy kicks into gear on back nine in Spain as McGowan sets course record

Adam McKendry
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Murphy kicks into gear on back nine in Spain as McGowan sets course record

John Murphy (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

Kinsale’s John Murphy overcame a slow start to begin his Acciona Open de España challenge with a three-under 68 and sit seven shots off the early lead at Club de Campo Villa Madrid.

The Irishman had just a solitary bogey on his card in the opening eight holes, but a birdie at the ninth kickstarted his round and a bogey-free back nine was punctuated by three birdies to take him up the leaderboard and into red figures.

That leaves Murphy seven back of England’s Ross McGowan, who was scintillating in the Spanish capital, the 39-year-old adding an eagle to eight birdies to lead by one from home favourite Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez after a course-record 10-under 61.

For Murphy, he’ll consider it a solid start in his quest to back up last week’s fine performance at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship where he finished ninth, especially given it looked like he was just going through the motions for most of his front nine.

A bogey at the par-three third had him over-par on a day where most players were finding birdies, but gaining a shot at the par-three ninth got him moving in the right direction, and he added further strokes at the 14th, 16th and 18th to sit tied for 40th after the opening day.

However, it was a tougher day for both Jonathan Caldwell and Cormac Sharvin in Spain, who opened with rounds of 73 and 75 respectively to both sit outside the top-110.

Caldwell could never recover from three bogeys in his first five holes as he slipped to two-over, while Sharvin’s bid for his Tour card for next season took another hit as he failed to birdie a single hole, instead bogeying four, and both will need big second rounds to stick around for the weekend.

The man they’re all chasing at the top is former Madrid Masters champion McGowan, who capped off a phenomenal 61 by taking just 29 strokes to play his back nine, and his lead is one from Garcia Rodriguez, who put together a similar scorecard but with one dropped shot for a nine-under 62.

“First out this morning, it was a bit chilly on the range and the first four or five holes the ball wasn’t really travelling but got away with a really good birdie on three and the par five on four as well, and after that it started warming up and I started finding my range with the irons, so holed a couple of putts and hit it close so went well,” said McGowan, who won in Madrid 12 years ago.

“I think a few things have clicked. Some work I have done with the coach and some of the Covid restrictions somewhat easing off, I find mentally I am in a better place, so I think it is a combination of the two.

“I always seem to putt pretty well here and last time I played quite well here too, so looking forward to tomorrow.”

Even though Garcia Rodriguez is the leading Spaniard, all eyes are on World No.1 and two-time defending champion Jon Rahm who, at eight-under, is right on the tail of the Englishman just two strokes back and looking ominously impressive after seven birdies, an eagle and just one dropped shot.

“It was a really good start. Played eight flawless holes and then a bit of a stumble from 18 through three, I didn’t hit my best shots and was able to save a couple pars to minimise the damage,” said Rahm, who had the vast majority of the crowd following him in Madrid.

“After that I was able to play some good golf coming down the stretch, giving myself some chances, but obviously we saw what Ross McGowan shot this morning – 10-under is a heck of a round out here.

“I played good enough to maybe do it, but you have to play flawless and make the putts, hit the right shots and on a golf course like this that is a little bit more old school, it is a little narrower and targets are smaller, so it is easier to end up out of position. Overall, very happy with my round.”

Former European Ryder Cup star and Irish Open champion Jamie Donaldson is tied for fourth at seven-under after a 64 alongside the Netherlands’ Wil Besseling and Scotland’s David Drysdale, with another group of four a further shot back at six-under.

That group includes Grant Forrest, who recorded a hole-in-one on the opening day in Madrid, the Scotsman draining his tee shot on the 181-yard par-three ninth with a perfectly struck eight-iron.

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