Tournament host Sergio Garcia admitted he was suffering from mental fatigue after struggling to an opening 74 in the Spanish Open at Valderrama.
Garcia, who won the last European Tour event to be staged at the former Ryder Cup venue in 2011, was one under par after eight holes, but came home in 39 to finish three over par, eight shots off the pace set by France's Alexander Levy.
And it could have been even worse for the world number 16, who holed from 30 feet for par after finding water on the fourth and from 20 feet on the last after a poor drive.
"I'm in a difficult moment of the season," said Garcia, who was three off the lead after an opening 69 in the Masters last week but shot 81 in the third round and eventually finished 34th at Augusta National.
“I’m a little bit mentally tired I guess, which is disappointing for me to come here to the Spanish Open and feel like I am not maybe as strong mentally as I would like to be. I just have to fight hard and get through it. I am going to have a nice break after this which I feel like I need.
“Scheduling-wise, with the Olympics and everything you have to find a way of getting your numbers (of tournaments) up in America and Europe earlier on in the year. Unfortunately you have to go through stretches where I would not like to play as much but I have to.”
Levy, who was second in the Perth International earlier this season, carded seven birdies and two bogeys in a five-under-par 66, which gave him a one-shot lead over defending champion James Morrison, Andrew Johnston, Alejandro Canizares and Stuart Manley.
“It’s a very tough golf course but I like when it’s tough because it’s not a putting contest,” Levy said. “You need to play well from tee to green and it’s the way I like to play a golf course, that’s for sure.”
Morrison carded five birdies and one bogey in the tougher afternoon conditions despite coming into the event after a six-week break.
“I played great,” Morrison said. “It’s a different experience coming back as defending champion but I am enjoying every moment.
“When I play bad golf it’s because I start having expectations, and at the end of last year came good golf and expectations and world rankings and I let my ego get in the way of the process.
“The last six weeks I put the clubs away and had some good family time, and missed cut or made cut it’s going to be a good week.”
Having started on the back nine, Manley was level par at the turn before reeling off five birdies in the next six holes, with a bogey on the eighth denying the 37-year-old Welshman a share of the lead.
“Any time you break par on this course you have done really well,” said Manley, who regained his card via the qualifying school last November. “I would have taken 71 at the start of the day because in the practice rounds I thought it was really tough, so I’m delighted with 67.
“It’s my first time here so I came out early on Friday last week. I was not allowed to practice (at the weekend) but came here on Sunday and had a look around to get a feel of the place and then played 18 holes on Monday and Tuesday and I think that really helped.”
Two-time Major winner Martin Kaymer was three shots off the pace after a 69, but Scotland's Craig Lee had to settle for a 71 after dropping five shots in the last six holes.
Lee was tied for the lead after four birdies and an eagle in his first 12 holes, but bogeyed the 13th, 15th and 17th before carding a double-bogey on the 18th.
Like Garcia, Ireland's Paul Dunne also took 39 shots on the back nine as he carded an opening two-over 73.
The Greystones man was one under after 10 holes following a birdie on the par-five fifth, but back-to-back bogeys on the 11th and 12th saw him slip over par.
A bogey four on the 15th pushed him out to two over before a second birdie of the day was secured on the par-five 17th. A closing bogey left Dunne in a share of 36th position on a day when just 15 players shot under par.
Peter Lawrie also struggled on the back nine after starting his round on the 10th. After opening with a birdie three the Dubliner carded five bogeys to turn in 40 and went on to bogey two of his last three holes in a six-over 77.