MADRID (AP)Jon Rahm made a strong start on his return to Spain, shooting an 8-under 63 in the first round of the Spanish Open on Thursday.
Rahm was 6-under-par through his first eight holes before making his only bogey before the turn and finishing with three more birdies on his back nine.
Rahm, who started on the 10th hole, was two shots behind clubhouse leader Ross McGowan, the Englishman who had eight birdies and an eagle in a 10 under round of 61.
Rahm also had an eagle on his front nine, at the par-5 14th hole. He was a shot behind second-placed countryman Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez, who had only one bogey in his 9-under 62 at Clube de Campo Villa de Madrid.
Spanish fans packed around the holes being played by Rahm, the U.S. Open champion and No. 1-ranked golfer in the world who is back in Spain for the first time in nearly two years.
He is seeking a third straight Spanish Open title, which would tie him with Spanish great Seve Ballesteros.
”I was very comfortable,” Rahm said. ”I would have signed for the 8 under before I started.”
He has shot in the 60s in his last nine rounds at this event, with his highest score a 68 in the second round in 2018, when the tournament was played at a different course. He also shot 63 in the third round in 2019 at the Clube de Campo Villa de Madrid.
Rahm is making his first start since the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, where he contributed 3 1/2 points to Europe’s lost cause.
Rahm’s Ryder Cup teammate, Bernd Wiesberger of Austria, was in the same group and shot 1-under 70 after three bogeys and four birdies.
Rahm’s first birdie came at the par-3 11th after his ball stopped at the edge of the hole for several seconds before falling in, bringing some laughter from the Spaniard and a big roar by the local crowd.
Rahm’s lone bogey came after he found the fairway bunker and missed the green on the 18th, his ninth hole of the day.
The Spaniard has turned into a star transcending sports in his home country and huge crowds are expected at the Clube de Campo this weekend.
”We were really excited to be able to see Jon from up close,” said Ana Conde, who traveled to Madrid from the northwestern region of Galicia with her two sons to see Rahm play. ”It’s a great experience. My kids watch him on television all the time and now they finally can see him in person.”
Rahm said he was extra motivated to play in front of the Spanish fans again and was grateful for the unprecedented support he has received.
”When I see my face on buses and billboards I realize the impact that I’ve had. Little by little I’m getting used to it,” said Rahm, who lives in the United States. ”I’m very motivated, there is nothing like the support of these fans.”
The tournament, which has been part of the European Tour schedule since 1972, was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Grant Forrest of Scotland made a hole-in-one at the par-3 ninth hole.
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