England's Eddie Pepperell emerged from a tightly packed leaderboard to claim the outright lead after the first round of the Spanish Open.

Pepperell carded an opening four-under-par 68 at PGA Catalunya to finish a shot ahead of a group of eight players, including pre-tournament favourite Sergio Garcia and fellow Spaniards Miguel Angel Jimenez and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

Another eight players were a shot further back on two under, including Ryder Cup hopeful Joost Luiten and former Open champion Paul Lawrie, who was making his first appearance since the end of January after back and neck problems.

Simon Thornton, Shane Lowry and Paul McGinley all shot level par 72s, while David Higgins and Gareth Maybin finished on one over.

Michael Hoey (+2), Damien McGrane (+3) and Kevin Phelan (+4) are also in action. 


Pepperell finished 76th on the Race to Dubai in his rookie campaign last year, but so far this season has made just three halfway cuts in 10 events, with a best finish of joint 45th in Abu Dhabi in January.

"Seemingly it's come out of nowhere looking at my results but it's very similar to last year," said the 23-year-old from Oxford, whose best finish in 2013 was a tie for sixth in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

"This time last year I started working with Mike (Walker, who also coaches Lee Westwood) and he made a big difference instantly.

"With the grass they have in this rough as soon as you miss the fairway it's a guessing game"

"Then I went and did a couple of my own things, which was a bit silly and cost me a bit of time this year but I feel like I am back on the straight and narrow.

"I back my ability and I know when I am playing well I can shoot good scores. I'm just not at the stage in my career yet when I am playing well enough consistently enough, but hopefully I will get there and today is a good sign.

"It was really tricky when it was flat calm and when I got on the 10th tee all of a sudden the wind came up out of nowhere and was blowing for the whole of the back nine."

Garcia had enjoyed the calmer morning conditions as he set about justifying his billing as pre-tournament favourite with an opening 69.

Fresh from his third place in the Players Championship at Sawgrass on Sunday, Garcia was as short as 4/1 to win his national open for the second time, 12 years after his previous success.

And the world number seven shrugged off a bad night's sleep following his journey from Florida to card three birdies, an eagle and two bogeys.

"I'm happy with my round," Garcia told Sky Sports. "I didn't have the greatest night last night and only slept for about four hours with the jet lag.

"I didn't feel extremely well with my swing but I managed to put it in play and give myself some good chances at birdies. The course is tough and the fairways are some of the tightest we have played all year.

"With the grass they have in this rough as soon as you miss the fairway it's a guessing game."

Holland's Robert-Jan Derksen partly had a hole-in-one on the fifth to thank for his 69 - he holed out with a five iron from 211 yards - while Scotland's Richie Ramsay would have hoped for even better than his 69 after birdies on his first three holes.

Spain's Pablo Larrazabal had asked players, caddies and spectators to wear black as a mark of respect for caddie Iain McGregor, who died on Sunday while working for Alastair Forsyth in the Madeira Islands Open.

A minute's silence was also observed at 1540 local time in honour of Zimbabwean McGregor, who suffered a fatal heart-attack on the ninth hole at Santo da Serra, while his fellow caddies helped erect a large advertising board bearing his picture near the first hole.