Sotogrande: Martin Kaymer`s bid to top the world rankings at the end of the week suffered a setback when he carded four bogeys in an opening one-over-par 72 at the Andalucia Masters on Thursday.
The German, who can dislodge Tiger Woods as world number one by finishing in the top two at Valderrama, was six strokes adrift of pacesetting Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal.
"It wasn`t that bad a round and it`s not the end of the world," the 25-year-old Kaymer told reporters in southern Spain. "I`ve got a lot to think about -- not only being world number one but the Race to Dubai (money list title)."
"It`s important on this course not to give up. You have to stay patient and that`s what I did."
Should Kaymer not finish in the top two then Briton Lee Westwood, nursing a sore calf and resting at home, would end Woods`s 281-week reign as world number one on Sunday.
Graeme McDowell, one of Kaymer`s Race to Dubai rivals, upstaged his playing partner and Ryder Cup team mate with a first-round 68.
The Briton lies second on the European Tour money-list, almost one million euros (USD 1.39 million) behind Kaymer, and knows he needs something spectacular to leapfrog the German.
"I need to have some strong finishes if I`m to catch him," McDowell said. "It`s not as if I`m only 10,000 or 12,000 euros behind him."
"Martin didn`t have his best day today but he`s never far from his best. Today I had a couple of key saves on the front nine. I think bogey-free is exceptional at Valderrama," added the Northern Irishman.
Kaymer`s fine performance in finishing sixth at the 2007 Volvo Masters here clinched the rookie of the year award.
On Thursday, however, things looked bleak when he ran up three successive bogeys from the 11th.
Kaymer suddenly found the form that has taken him to world number three by smashing a huge drive at the well-protected 16th hole before sinking a two-foot putt for his birdie three.
Leader Larrazabal, winner of the 2008 French Open, produced a flawless five-under 66.
McDowell was joined in second place on 68 by Irishman Damien McGrane while Briton Gareth Maybin and India`s Shiv Kapur were on 69.
Former world number two Sergio Garcia began his campaign with a 70.