McKibbin & Raymond best of Irish on day one at Portmarnock Links

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McKibbin & Raymond best of Irish on day one at Portmarnock Links

Tom McKibbin (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Tom McKibbin and Cameron Raymond were understandably pleased with their opening day’s work with the pair just four shots off the lead heading into day two of the Irish Challenge at Portmarnock Links.

Looking to bounce back from two missed cuts in Tenerife and one in Sweden, McKibbin fired six birdies with a bogey and a double also on the card to sit in a tie for third at three-under par after recording a day one 68 in Dublin.

“I got off to a pretty solid start – had a few birdies on the front nine and then had a bit of an unfortunate double on 18, my 12th, but bounced back with two birdies in a row and managed to hang on coming in into those into the wind holes,” said McKibbin.

“[Tenerife] really highlighted some of my weaknesses so I went away and worked on those, and bit by bit I’m seeing some progress which is nice.”

St. Anne’s professional Raymond matched the Holywood man’s opening salvo, posting four birdies and a bogey despite the wind really getting up in the afternoon.

“It was a good day out there,” said Raymond. “Knowing the place helped a lot – I only live ten minutes down the road. I think I hit 15, 16 greens and that was the recipe for a good score. It was tough – windy – but it was pretty much just do what you know how to do, hit the middle of the greens and keep it simple.”

Another man satisfied with his day’s work was Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy, who, despite a lack of game-time, returned four birdies in a one-under 70.

“I played very well actually, didn’t do much wrong,” said McElroy. “Around the turn the wind really picked up, it was very gusty, but tee-to-green it was really good. Hit most fairways, hit most greens – a productive day!”

Michael Hoey and Stuart Grehan were the only other Irish who managed parity or better after even par 71s with Conor O’Rourke and James Sugrue at one-over and Paul McBride, Conor Purcell and amateur Rowan Lester at plus-two. Simon Thornton, Colm Moriarty, Michael Dallat and Ronan Mullarney were all three-over par.

At the top, Alfredo Garcia-Heredia will take a three-shot lead into round two after posting a sublime seven-under par round of 64 at Portmarnock Links.

The Spaniard took full advantage of the calm early conditions before the wind and rain arrived on the Velvet Strand to lead by three ahead of Englishman Gary King, who sits in second place following a bogey-free four-under par round of 67.

The 39-year-old, who admitted to having little experience of playing links golf, was ecstatic with his opening round in Co. Dublin.

“I played really well, it was probably my best round of the year so far,” he said. “I like the area, the place, the hotel and the links golf course is great. If you play well, you make a good score, and to shoot seven under I also had to have some good breaks in order to make birdies and save some pars. Honestly, I think my play deserved four or five under, but seven is a good bonus.”

The Gijon native’s red-hot start to proceedings in Ireland continues his good form of late, which includes a tie for 12th place at the Canary Islands Championship on the European Tour.

“I have been playing well,” he said. “I was resting at home last week and I needed that break after playing in the Canary Islands. I arrived here on Monday and practiced on Tuesday, so I played 36 holes, which is not normal for me.

“With links golf courses you have to get in as many rounds as possible and focus on the lines, the targets and be patient because the wind can change, and bogeys are definitely out there. It is important to make your pars and then take advantage of the good shots that you hit.

“It is very challenging because the fairways are narrow, the wind is sideways and back into you. It is the most complete golf course I have played this year for sure. You must be playing really well to be successful on this links course.”

Gavin Moynihan and Robin Dawson have work to do after carding four-over par 75s while Caolan Rafferty was left to rue a final hole double bogey in a 76.

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