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Mixed fortunes for Scots on a day of sombre reflection

It was a day for reflection at the PGA Catalunya course as the European Tour's heavyweights paid their respects to Iain McGregor, the caddie who died while working for the Scottish golfer, Alasdair Forsyth, at the Madeira Islands Open last weekend.

Paul Lawrie made an impressive return from injury to sit two shots off the lead at PGA Catalunya
Paul Lawrie made an impressive return from injury to sit two shots off the lead at PGA Catalunya

Spain's Pablo Larrazabal had requested that players, caddies and spectators wear black as a mark of respect for the Zimbabwean and a minute's silence was observed at 3.40pm, the time of McGregor's death. Forsyth, understandably, had a difficult first round and sat at five over while Scott Henry who had looked on course for a maiden title in Madeira fared even worse, carding a 10-over 82.

The sombre proceedings proved less onerous to fellow Scots Richie Ramsay and Paul Lawrie, however. They were well in contention, respectively a shot and two shots behind the leader Eddie Pepperell of England. It was particularly pleasing for Lawrie who was making his first appearance since January following back and neck injuries.

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.

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, whose best finish was joint-sixth in the BMW PGA Cham­pionship at Wentworth in 2013.

"This time last year I started working with Mike [Walker, who also coaches Lee Westwood] and he made a big difference instantly. 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, Garcia was as short as 4/1 to win his national open for the second time, 12 years after his previous success.

He shrugged off jet lag following his journey from Florida to card three birdies, an eagle and two bogeys.

"I'm happy with my round," Garcia said. "The course is tough and the fairways are some of the tightest we have played all year."

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