Cara Gainer fired an opening round of 66 (-7) on day one of the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de España at Alferini Golf.
The Englishwoman began her round on the 11th hole and opened with a birdie, she rolled in another on 13 before dropping a shot on 14.
However, Gainer found her stride making four consecutive birdies on holes 16 through to the first and despite another bogey on the third, she made three further birdies to sign for a round of seven-under.
“Overall, I’m really really pleased,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better start. I got it going, I was quite patient, I hit the ball lovely today and holed a few putts.
“It played very different to the practice days. We were having 20mph winds and we really had no wind today and it was a lot warmer. The ball was flying further, we had one or two clubs less in on every hole today which makes it a bit easier to hit it close.
“I would give myself a seven or eight out of ten for the season. It’s trended really nicely since Belgium, that kickstarted the last four or five months. I’ve had some really solid results, but not quite all the way there. It’s nice to get off to a good start this week, still plenty of golf to go.”
Gainer sits one shot ahead of defending champion Carlota Ciganda, who carded a round of six-under 67 on the first day.
It was a slower start for the Spaniard who rolled in birdies on six and eight before making a double bogey on 11 to take herself back to level par for the round.
But she got on a hot streak on the back nine rolling in six consecutive birdies to put herself firmly near the top of the leaderboard.
“I’m pretty happy,” said the six-time LET winner. “After that double bogey, I thought three or four-under was a good score today.
“I knew I had those two par-fives to finish so I thought if I could get a couple of birdies before 16 and 17. I started making some good putts on 13 to 18 and with six birdies to finish, I’m obviously very happy.
“I love playing here it’s so nice to see familiar faces, to see family and friends. I love playing in front of them. It’s always special to play in Spain as well, so I’m just happy to be here and finish the year here.”
Four players are shared for third place with Switzerland’s Morgane Metraux, France’s Anais Meyssonnier, Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Sweden’s Linn Grant all on five-under-par.
It was a bogey-free day for Metraux as she rolled in five birdies for her round of 68 and she was pleased with her day’s work.
“The course is playing really soft which is something I really like and it’s something I enjoy playing,” said the 2022 Italian Open champion.
“Pick a number and then throw it all the way to the pin, makes it simple in my head and I enjoy that. My long game has been pretty steady, I didn’t really make many putts actually today. I hit it quite close on quite a few holes. Overall, it is pretty solid, and I didn’t make a bogey.”
Meyssonnier also had a good day making an eagle on the par-four 15th hole alongside four birdies and one bogey.
She explained: “I’m very happy with my round, I only did nine holes of practice and I tried to rest as much as possible. My eagle, I made it from 100m and got some backspin which was very nice. My putting was very nice too. I didn’t miss a lot of shots, just one driver on the sixth hole because I tried to get to the other side of the fairway, and I missed. My long game was good, and my putter was good too.”
While Irish superstar Maguire, who started from the 11th tee, dropped her only shot of the day on 18 and had an eagle on her scorecard.
“It was really solid round, I committed nicely to my targets,” said Maguire. “I drove the ball well, which you have to do out here, and it was nice to get that bonus eagle on eight to come in and finish with some nice momentum.
“I had a fantastic season on the LPGA, it was nice to finish that off with a second place over there and one last event of the year, hopefully I can finish it off strong. It’s nice to be back in Spain and there were quite a few Irish people out watching today which was nice to have a little home support and my dad is here this week, so it’s nice to have him here too and finish it off as well as I can.”
Leader of the 2022 Race to Costa del Sol Grant recovered well on the first day after making two birdies in her first three holes.
The Swede soon found her feet rolling in birdies on four, six, eight and 12 before making three consecutively on 16 through 18 to finish with a flourish.
“I started off a bit nervous and stiff, I didn’t know what to do for the first couple of holes being two-over after three,” said the four-time LET winner. “I found something and got it going and finished on five-under which I’m very happy with.
“I think I built this tournament up a bit wanting to perform well and win. Going out there with Maja [Stark] and Carlota knowing that they would probably play good, I knew I had to play well as well and I think that pressure took over the first couple of holes.
“It feels nice to be ahead of Maja for now, even though I like to play with her, and she’ll say the same, it’s good to be one shot ahead going into tomorrow.”
Nine players sit one shot further back in a tie for seventh place including Swedish duo Maja Stark and Jessica Karlsson, South Africans Lee-Anne Pace and Casandra Alexander, English pair Hannah Burke and Alice Hewson, Spain’s Nuria Iturrioz and Azahara Muñoz, and Dutch star Anne Van Dam.