(Reuters) - Rafa Cabrera-Bello boosted his Ryder Cup hopes with a sizzling start, earning a share of the first-round lead with American Kevin Na at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina on Thursday.
The long-hitting Spaniard bagged an eagle and five birdies for a seven-under-par 63 in the first round at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro.
Cabrera-Bello and Na are two strokes ahead of a group of five that includes Englishman Luke Donald, whose cause was helped by a hole-in-one with a nine-iron from 163 yards at the par-three 16th.
American Jim Furyk, in his first round since carding a PGA Tour-record 58 in the final round at the Travelers 11 days ago, continued his machine-like ball-striking en route to a 66. He has hit 38 successive greens in regulation.
Cabrera-Bello received an invitation to play in Greensboro where he arrived in good form, coming off a tie for fifth at the Olympic golf in Rio.
As much as he enjoyed representing Spain, he also wants to be part of the Europe team for the Ryder Cup in six weeks.
He is currently on the borderline of earning selection, with the top nine players at the end of next week making the team automatically before captain Darren Clarke adds three more picks.
“Last week... was the first time I was really not playing for myself, just playing for my country and obviously it’s a huge honor but also big responsibility and I wanted to do good and I was pleased with my result,” Cabrera-Bello told reporters.
“I would have wanted to win a medal but given how it turned out it was a very good week and coming into this week, I felt the game was good.”
World number 27 Cabrera-Bello said he decided to play in Greensboro this week instead of the European Tour’s Czech Masters, because the stronger field offered more ranking points, and gave him a better chance to improve his Ryder Cup position.
“I also felt that it was going to be easier to travel South to North (America) than from Rio to Czech Republic, jet lag-wise,” the 32-year-old added.
Cabrera-Bello is hoping to continue the Spanish success in Greensboro, where the late Seve Ballesteros won in 1978 and Sergio Garcia also lifted the Sam Snead Cup in 2012.
“Obviously an honor for me if I have a chance to put my name on a trophy where Seve and Sergio are also part of it,” he said.
“Last tournament I won, two Spaniards had just won before me so if that record helps me get a little bit of luck and being in contention, then so be it, great.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Larry Fine/John O'Brien