It was a day of mixed results for Ireland’s Challenge Tour contingent but it proved one of particular promise for Ruaidhri McGee and Gary Hurley after the pair enjoyed a timely return to form on Thursday in Portugal.
Rosapenna’s McGee leads a strong Irish charge and sits just two back of the lead after firing a four-under par 68 on day one at Portimao.
McGee rifled in seven birdies, two more than West Waterford’s Hurley who sits a shot back in a tie for 11th at three-under par.
The ever-consistent, Cormac Sharvin is a shot further adrift after posting a typically solid two-under 70, the same total as Dubliner Paul McBride who’s been coming into his own on the Tour of late.
However, where that quartet soared, others struggled with Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan the best of the rest at two-over par.
That’s only good enough for a share 82nd, though it is two shots better than Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell (76) and a full five better than Tramore’s Robin Dawson who signed for a bitterly disappointing seven-over par 79.
With that trio struggling to make the cut, the likes of McGee and Hurley will be eyeing the upper echelons of the board where Henric Sturehed birdied three of his last four holes to lead the 57° Open de Portugal @ Morgado Golf Resort by one stroke at the end of the first day.
The Swede carded eight birdies and two bogeys to sign for a six-under par 66, one shot clear of Aaron Cockerill, Christopher Mivis and Adrian Meronk, who all signed for rounds of 67 to share second place.
Sturehed, who turned 29 earlier this week, was two under par at the turn before carding birdies at the 11th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 18th – with a bogey on the penultimate hole – to set the pace at the end of the opening round.
“I played the course really well today and managed to stay on the short grass, which was really important because the rough is so thick here,” he said.
“I hit a really nice shot and tapped in for birdie on 15, which was really important to keep the momentum going.
“I bogeyed 17 but I was really pleased to bounce back and close with a birdie on 18, which keeps me on the right track going into tomorrow.
“Nothing changes for tomorrow, I’ll just try and do the same again, try to stay out of trouble and keep plotting away.”
Canadian Cockerill would have joined Sturehed on six under par had it not been for a closing bogey, but he was content with how he played, missing just one green all day which resulted in that blemish at the last.
“It was a good start,” he said. “We played six holes without much wind and I managed to stay on the fairway all day, keep out of the rough and I made a few birdies, so it was good.
“The rough is really brutal, so you’ve got to do your best to hit fairways, the middle of the greens and avoid the rough at all costs.
“We’ve been loving Portugal. We’ve been into Lagos and Portimao and it’s great. The weather’s awesome, so are the beaches, the food’s good and I think that helps with some of the golf.”
Poland’s Meronk, who currently sits marginally outside the top 15 on the Road to Mallorca Rankings in 19th position, is no stranger to Morgado Golf Resort as he spends each winter practising in the Algarve and he too was pleased with his opening round.
“It was a very solid round, especially in those conditions as it was very windy,” he said. “The wind was actually changing during the round so we had to adjust as we went along.
“The course is not that tough without the wind, but the wind makes it tough as the rough is so thick. If you miss the green, you can have a really bad lie. If you’re a little bit off-line, it can be tough.
“My course management and ball striking was pretty good today, as was my putting. I holed a lot of six and seven footers for pars and birdies, so that was the key.
“I love it here. I come here every winter to practice so I know the course and the area really well. I really like it.
“I’m very close to being in the top 15 but I don’t want to think about it. I just want to play and see what it gives me at the end.”
Behind the trio on five-under par is a group of six players in tied fifth on four under par, including Road to Mallorca Number Two Richard Bland, Swedish duo Simon Forsström and Joel Sjöholm, Ireland’s McGee, Germany’s Philipp Mejow and Jérôme Lando-Casanova, of France.
The second round gets under way at 7.30am local time on Friday September 13.
Full scoring HERE