McLardy and Murphy on top before Mallorca storm

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MALLORCA, Spain, Oct 26 (Reuters) South African Andrew McLardy and Ireland's Gary Murphy shared the clubhouse lead in the Mallorca Classic first round when thunderstorms and heavy rain caused play to be abandoned late afternoon.

Half of the field were due to return to the Pula course to complete their rounds today.

McLardy took steps to benefit from a second chance to make next week's big-money Volvo Masters with a four-under 66 with Murphy yesterday.

The pair are a stroke ahead of British duo Graeme Storm and James Hepworth, along with Swede Joakim Backstrom. Tournament favourite Sergio Garcia is a further shot back.

While Murphy will have to vault 25 places to make the elite line-up at Valderrama next week, McLardy lies 62nd on the European Tour money list, only two spots away from a season-ending finale in Spain.

The 33-year-old Zimbabwe-born McLardy, with two second places this season and four in all, welcomed his good start as he produced a flawless round.

''This is my 'Mulligan','' McLardy told Reuters, ''because I should have sealed my Volvo Masters place last week in Portugal.

''I only needed 25th place but shot a 76 in the final round and fell away. It's a second bite of the cherry.

''I started hitting the ball close, that gave me confidence and then I started putting well.'' FAULTLESS CARD McLardy and Murphy shared the lead after the opening round last year with the eventual winner Niclas Fasth of Sweden.

While McLardy faded, Murphy stayed in front with Fasth for the second and third rounds before the Irishman's closing 76 dropped him to tied 13th.

Murphy, too, had a faultless card. The Irishman, though, needs to surge from 85th place on the money list to make next week's finale.

''My first round here is always my best,'' joked Murphy. ''Last year I jumped in the ambulance for the last four holes.

''It's difficult to forget but I'll try to do better this time because I need a top two to get into Valderrama.'' Garcia, second last year, said he was rusty after a five-week layoff and took time to find his range, picking out his six-iron tee shot on the 18th, his ninth hole, for cranking up his game.

''I was swinging too narrow but after 18 I felt like I had a bit more width and rhythm,'' Garcia, who added three birdies in seven holes after the turn, told reporters.

''Unfortunately I had three really good putts that didn't go in.'' Fasth was one of those caught out by the thunderstorm. The holder was going well before the stoppage, three successive birdies from the fourth taking him to three-under after seven holes, only a stroke off the clubhouse lead.

Britain's former Ryder Cup player Andrew Coltart, trying to keep his card, made a bright start with a 69.

REUTERS BJR KN1323

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