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Pepperell breaks clear with late birdie

ESPN staff
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Eddie Pepperell is finding some form after a slow start to the season © AP
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Eddie Pepperell carded an opening-round 68 to top a tightly-packed Open de Espana leaderboard on a day where only 30 of the 155-strong field went under par.

The 23-year-old Englishman was part of a large group at 3-under par before a stunning approach shot at PGA Catalunya's par-4 17th set up a five-foot birdie putt to hand him the outright lead headed into the second round.

Pepperell finished 76th in the Race to Dubai in his debut season on the European Tour, but has made just three cuts in 10 events so far this season - with his best finish a tie for 45th at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January.

"Seemingly it's come out of nowhere looking at my results but it's very similar to last year," said Pepperell, whose best finish last year was joint-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. 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 tenth tee all of a sudden the wind came up out of nowhere and was blowing for the whole of the back nine."

Pepperell leads by one over a pack of eight players, including Spaniards Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, as well as Scotland's Richie Ramsay.

Another Scot, Paul Lawrie, heads another group of eight at 2-under, where he is joined by England's Ross Fisher and Danny Willett.

Fresh from his third place at the Players Championship, Garcia revealed that he had suffered from a poor night's sleep ahead of his national open - which he won in 2002.

"I'm happy with my round," said world No.7 Garcia, who carded three birdies, an eagle and two bogeys. "I didn't have the greatest night last night and only slept for about four hours with 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."

Like Garcia, Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen recorded a first-day 69, largely thanks to a hole-in-one at the 211-yard par-3 fifth.

Alastair Forsyth, whose caddie Iain McGregor collapsed and died during the final round of last week's Madeira Islands Open, carded a 5-over par 77.

Open de Espana leaderboard

The crowds were out in force to watch local favourite Sergio Garcia © Getty Images
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