MADRID (AP) — Back in front of his home crowd for the first time in nearly two years, Jon Rahm didn’t let them down.
The top-ranked golfer got off to a fast start on his return to Spain, shooting an 8-under 63 in the first round of the Spanish Open on Thursday to sit in third place.
Rahm was at 6 under after his first eight holes before making his only bogey and then finished with three more birdies on his back nine.
“There are quite a few fans out here and they are rather enthusiastic, they have been cooped up for too long and they have the chance to come out and watch me play,” he said. “From the beginning, every single shot and every single putt I made they were really supportive and every time I missed a shot they were extremely supportive as well, so that always helps.”
Rahm, who started on the 10th hole, was two shots behind clubhouse leader Ross McGowan, the Englishman who was even more impressive with eight birdies and an eagle in a course-record round of 61 at the Clube de Campo Villa de Madrid.
“I think a few things have clicked,” said McGowan, who won his first European Tour event in the Spanish capital 12 years ago at the Madrid Masters.
Rahm also had an eagle on his front nine, at the par-5 14th hole. He was outdone by countryman Sebastián García Rodríguez, who was one shot off the lead after making only one bogey in his round of 62.
“Rahm is near the front and I am very good friends with him, we played a lot together and it is fantastic,” Rodríguez said. “There were so many friends and family watching, this is my home, it is 10 minutes from here. It has been an incredible week so far.”
Spanish fans crowded around the holes being played by Rahm, who in June won his first major by becoming the first Spaniard to win the U.S. Open. 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 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.
“It was a really good start,” he said. “Played eight flawless holes and then a bit of a stumble from 18 through three. I didn’t hit my best shots and was able to save a couple of pars to minimize the damage.”
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.
Three players were tied at 7 under, three shots off the lead — Wil Besseling, Jamie Donaldson and Scot David Drysdale.
Grant Forrest of Scotland made a hole-in-one at the par-3 ninth hole.