Gavin Moynihan translated some impressive form on the fairways of Ireland into a pleasing first European Tour outing since Covid-19 to sit just inside the top-20 after day one of the Austrian Open.
The Dubliner fired a bogey-free three-under par round of 69 to head the Irish charge after disappointing openings from Tramore’s Robin Dawson (+4) and Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney (+6).
The Irish trio arrived on the Continent on Monday ahead of this week’s Austrian Open as professional golf returned to the Main Stage in Europe after the PGA Tour’s return back in June.
Moynihan admitted he didn’t need to be asked twice when the opportunity to take flight to Diamond Country Club arrived and he won’t be regretting that decision now given he trails pre-tournament favourite, Joost Luiten by just four shots heading into round two.
“Really happy with the round,” he reflected. “Three birdies and no bogeys which is always nice, particularly around this place – it’s a tough track.
“It got very windy from six through 13 and the course got very firm – the greens held up – but the fairways were very firm which made them tough to hold.
“But yeah, it was a very good ball striking day. I hit a lot of greens and managed a couple of really nice two-putts towards the end of the round from about 50/60 feet. The greens are quite slopey here but I was really happy with how I holed out from inside five feet.
“It could’ve been a few lower, I missed a couple of chances but overall, given conditions, I’m really happy with the start.”
Luiten meanwhile started his quest for a second Austrian Open title with a seven-under par 65, taking a one stroke lead into the second round as the European Tour and European Challenge Tour seasons resumed on Thursday.
This week’s dual-ranking event marks the restart of both Tours almost four months to the day since the Covid-19 stoppage.
Luiten won his second European Tour title at this very venue in 2013 and channelled his fond memories of this course as he birdied five of the first seven holes. The 34-year-old then birdied three of his four closing holes to move one ahead of Scotland’s Craig Howie, who set the early pace with a bogey-free six-under par.
“I’ve got good memories here,” said Luiten. “For some reason I like this place, I’ve played well here a few times. It’s good to come back after a four-month break and have my game in order and shoot seven under. A lot of us didn’t know where we stood with our games, it’s good to have a fast start and bring in a good score.
“Everything was working well. I hit it well off the tee, didn’t miss many greens, holed a couple of putts and hit my irons close. Just one bogey – you have to keep the mistakes off your card here because it’s a tricky golf course if you’re out of position. I stayed in position a lot and made some nice birdies.
“Tournament golf: you don’t lose it. It’s still the same as before. On the outside there’s a couple of changes, but when you’re out there you have to hit the shots, stay focused, stay patient and play your own game.”
Howie was joined on that number by compatriot Marc Warren, aided by an eagle on the par five 15th and a birdie on the last for a round of 66.
“Absolutely delighted,” said Howie. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect after four months off, so that was a surprise. It was good though. It’s the first time I’ve had a bogey-free round in a long time. That was pretty satisfying, particularly on such a tough golf course.
“It was playing OK this morning. There was no wind so it really was perfect conditions. The greens are so good, so that makes putting a little easier and you can then build a score.
“With my category, I’ve only ever had one opportunity to play on the European Tour before. To have the opportunity to play a European Tour dual ranking event is great. It’s a lot more money as well, so there is a lot to play for.”
Another Scot, Connor Syme, sits in fourth place on five under par alongside Philip Eriksson of Sweden, Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard, and Italian Lorenzo Scalise.
Miguel Angel Jiménez, marked his 705th European Tour start with a four under par round of 68. The evergreen Spaniard is just one appearance behind Sam Torrance’s record set more than a decade ago. He is joined by nine other golfers in a share of eighth.
As per all events on the reshaped 2020 Race to Dubai, the Austrian Open is governed by the European Tour’s comprehensive Health Strategy, which will see healthcare specialists Cignpost deliver rapid on-site Covid-19 screening.
In order to help mitigate risk, all players, caddies and on-site personnel will be tested, and participants will operate within national public health guidelines, including social distancing and following enhanced hygiene directives.