Ireland’s David Higgins is just one shot off the lead at the Spanish Open after carding a 69 in the opening round in Valencia.

Higgins bogey-free round included three birdies

Felipe Aguilar of Chile, France's Gary Stal and Denmark's Morten Orum Madsen share the lead on four under.

Aguilar, who has won more than 30 tournaments in Chile but has just one European Tour title to his name, told "Four under is a good score anywhere so I am quite happy with it.

"I took a couple of weeks off which has been good for me because I was really tired after the beginning of the season. I played really well in the desert (finishing ninth in Qatar and third in Dubai) so I think my card is secure for next year.

"Now I am playing to finish high in the Race to Dubai and for world ranking points. It's always a lot easier when you start very well."

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano was rewarded for his commitment to the event with a first round of 69 to lie in a share of fourth.

Fernandez-Castano travelled to El Saler immediately after competing in the Masters at Augusta, where he was disappointed to finish 20th after being in contention for much of the week.

Playing partner Miguel Angel Jimenez failed to record a single birdie in his round of 76, but was just pleased to be back playing for the first time since suffering a broken leg while skiing in December last year.

"It's very nice to be back, it's been a long time away from competition," the 49-year-old told Sky Sports 2.

"I was looking forward to playing this tournament and I recovered as quick as I can and am very pleased to be here.

"I hit some good shots and some poor shots, it was not brilliant and I could not hole any putts. The most difficult thing is to get the rhythm of competition and get your mind focused. My leg is fine, it's about the feeling inside."

Pre-tournament favourite Sergio Garcia, joint eighth in the Masters, had to settle for a level-par 72 to finish alongside former world number three Paul Casey.

"It was a flat round, I played passably, neither very well nor very poorly," Garcia said. "I had a decent start and should have shot three or four under with no wind, but I made a lousy double bogey on the fourth (hitting his tee shot into the trees and then pitching into a bunker). After that I found myself fighting to save pars instead of making birdies."

Defending champion Francesco Molinari, struggling with a back injury which forced him to miss the pre-tournament pro-am, started with a triple-bogey seven and was six over after 11 holes, but played the last seven holes in three under to card a 75.