Jon Rahm makes encouraging start to Open de Espana
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 04/10/19 5:07pm
Star attraction Jon Rahm got his Open de Espana defence off to a strong start with a five-under 66 in the opening round in Madrid.
Rahm carded six birdies with just one blemish on the 18th as he and Rafa Cabrera Bello ended the first day three shots adrift of Kristian Krogh Johannessen, who carded a superb 63 to lead a European Tour event for the first time in his career.
Adri Arnaus birdied his final hole to be the leading home player just ahead of Rahm and Cabrera Bello, while Real Madrid star Gareth Bale was seen cheering on Sergio Garcia, who was three under after eight holes but failed to make another birdie over the last 10 as he settled for a 69.
Norwegian Johannessen started with three pars from the 10th before following back-to-back birdies with a pitch-in for an eagle-two at the 15th, and he responded to a three-putt bogey at the next with a nice two at the short 17th.
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The world No 909 then finished an excellent day's work with four birdies over his last six holes which ensured a two-shot lead over Arnaus, who covered the back-nine in just 29 strokes after he made four birdies and an eagle in a dazzling six-hole burst of scoring.
Rahm was encouraged by his start as he bids to replace Open champion Shane Lowry at the top of the Race to Dubai, although the world No 5 conceded that playing-partner Arnaus took centre stage over the first nine holes of their round.
The Rahm, Arnaus and Cabrera Bello threeball were a combined 16 under on the day, and Rahm said: "The greens were perfect, they are the best greens I've putted on in Spain in my career. Me, Rafa and Adri played really well, especially on that front nine Adri got it going really well and me and Rafa were trying to catch up.
"My biggest challenge early on was to get the pace of the greens. They were so fast. I was getting used to the speed and the changes from last week to this week. Yesterday I did struggle with ball striking, but I fixed it and stayed committed to the changes I made."
Former Ryder Cup winner Jamie Donaldson made a late dart at the lead and followed three birdies in four holes around the turn with his sixth gain of the day at the 15th, but the Welsh veteran then bogeyed 17 and dropped back into the logjam on five under.
The evergreen, and ever-popular, Miguel Angel Jimenez fired a commendable three-under 68 to earn a place in the top-20, the 55-year-old making birdies at two of the last four holes to edge ahead of Garcia, who is hunting for his second win in his home Open - 17 years after his first.