The cream is rising to the top early doors at the Stone Irish Challenge as Cormac Sharvin and Michael Hoey produced the best efforts from the home contingent on day one at Headfort.
The Northern Irish pair both returned three-under par 69s in difficult conditions at the testing Kells venue to find themselves in a share of 10th heading into day two.
With the rough brutally penal and the damp conditions ensuring the course plays long, this week’s test looks to be about as tricky as it comes on the Challenge Tour but that didn’t stop some great scoring on day one.
With a four-way tie at five-under leading, Ardglass pro Sharvin, who was in 8th place on the Road to Mallorca standings starting out the week, found five birdies and two bogeys to trail by just two while 40-year old Hoey managed one less bogey in his three-under par effort to keep right in touch.
Just a shot further adrift and inside the top-20 is European Tour regular Gavin Moynihan who signed for three bogeys, three birdies and an eagle in a rock-solid 70.
That was the same number as Naas pro Jonathan Yates whose round highlight came when he holed out for an eagle two at the par-4 8th.
Whitehead’s John Ross Galbraith continues to build on his good form and he’s another in the red after a rollercoaster one-under par round of 71 that included six birdies and one less bogey to sit just inside the top-30 after his opening effort.
Level par was always going to prove a sound return on day one and Castleknock’s David Carey, Old Conna’s Neil O’Briain, Naas’ Conor O’Rourke and Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy can all be satisfied having hit that number and built a solid foundation on which to build for the rest of the tournament.
Rosapenna’s Ruaidhri McGee is joined by Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan at the wrong side of par, though only just at plus-one while Jonathan Caldwell, Robin Dawson and Rory McNamara all reached the clubhouse at two-over par.
The Island’s Paul McBride (+6) completed the Irish line-up on day one.
At the head of affairs, Aaron Cockerill’s red-hot form has travelled from Morocco to Ireland and he will take a share of the lead into day two in Meath.
The Canadian, who has jumped from 97th to 50th on the Road to Mallorca Rankings over the past three tournaments, carded a five under par 67 to sit atop the leaderboard alongside England’s Laurie Canter, Emilio Cuartero Blanco of Spain and Dutchman Daan Huizing.
The round was the first trip Cockerill made around the difficult Headfort New course, after he spent the early part of the week working to make travel arrangements for the upcoming Hainan Open following his last three results of tied 17th, tied fifth and tied seventh, which earned him a place in the limited field.
“This course is pretty demanding off the tee, and I hadn’t played a practice round because I’ve been trying to figure out my visa, but maybe that was a good thing because there were fewer things to think about,” he said.
It can often be a fine line between success and failure in professional golf and the 27-year-old believes the key to his current form comes from being on the good side of those narrow margins.
“I’ve made a lot of cuts, but I just hadn’t had a lot of high finishes,” he said. “It’s not that big of a difference between finishing 40th and finishing 15th. It’s a couple things here or there, maybe one less bad drive or making the odd putt, just very minor stuff.
“I’ve kind of been around the lead for the last month it feels like so I’m getting a bit more comfortable and my game is feeling good.”
Asked if he puts much stock into his position on the leaderboard after one round, the Winnipeg native said he has learned his lesson over the years.
“I used to, and that’s when I would shoot 75 in round two or three and be out of it, but not anymore. Now I just take it shot by shot, as simple as that sounds, that’s what has been working for me, just worry about the next one.”
With only the top 45 players qualifying for the season-ending Challenge Tour Grand Final, Cockerill has sprung to life at the perfect time, but he will have to hold off his peers who he shares the lead with and a host of players within striking distance.
The opening round of the Stone Irish Challenge was suspended due to darkness, however with only one group left to finish, the final group will complete play tomorrow morning at 8:45 am local time and tee times for round two will remain unaffected.
Full scoring HERE
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