CASTELLON, Spain – Hometown favorite Sergio Garcia shot an 8-under 63 on Friday to take a two-shot lead at the Castello Masters.
Playing on a course where he was club champion at the age of 12, Garcia eagled the par-5 No. 8 and holed seven other birdies to move to 12 under for the tournament.
The Spaniard, who hasn’t won on the European Tour in almost three years, provided a reminder of his natural ability – and familiarity with the course – with a fine bunker shot on No. 17 to save par.
“Because I’m home, I’ve hit that shot so many times. I hit it perfectly,” he said.
Once ranked No. 2, Garcia has struggled and dropped outside the top 75 after near-misses at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie and 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.
The 31-year-old has improved this season and is back up to No. 49 in the rankings with top-12 finishes in the last three majors.
“It’s getting there,” Garcia said. “It’s not quite there yet – sometimes I have a little bit of a hard time hitting a draw, but when my little fade works out, I can keep it in play.”
Alexander Noren of Sweden also finished with a 63 after an opening 69 and is two shots off the lead. Scotland’s Gary Orr, England’s Ross McGowan and Australia’s Marcus Fraser are two shots further back.
“It didn’t feel that good on the range,” Noren said. “But I found my swing and holed a lot of putts. I played probably the best I’ve ever played on the front nine.”
Defending champion Matteo Manassero of Italy is 5 under after a cautious round of 68 that featured four birdies and a bogey.
Tom Lewis, last week’s winner at the Portugal Masters, was due to tee off with Garcia and Manassero but was forced to pull out earlier in the day because of an illness.
American two-time major winner John Daly is likely to miss the cut after shooting 73-70 in the first two rounds to leave him at 1 over.
Another American, Anthony Kang, should be playing through the weekend after a pair of 70s put him at 2 under.