Kearney in contention after opening 68 at Cazoo Classic

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Kearney in contention after opening 68 at Cazoo Classic

Niall Kearney (Photo by Harry Murphy/Getty Images)

Niall Kearney picked up where he left off at last week’s Hero Open, recovering from an opening hole bogey with five birdies in a fine four-under par opening 68 at the Cazoo Classic.

Following last week’s top-10 in Scotland, the Royal Dublin pro knows a big week could secure his European Tour card given he’s on the cusp of the top-110 on the Race to Dubai, currently in 121st place. And now Kearney is well on his way to that goal, just three shots off the first round lead in a tie for ninth at four-under after a fine start.

Jonathan Caldwell also made a bright start as he looks to kick on from last week’s top-30 finish at Fairmont St Andrews. The Clandeboye pro posted three birdies and just one dropped shot in an opening 70 that leaves him sharing 31st at two-under. Cormac Sharvin signed for a one-under 71 as he looks to bounce back from three missed cuts on the spin while the troubles continue for Paul Dunne who was six-over par through nine holes when he retired from the tournament.

At the top, Richard Bland returned to European Tour action for the first time in over three weeks and picked up from where he left off as the Englishman took the first round lead at London Golf Club.

Having earned an emotional first European Tour victory in May’s Betfred British Masters, which came in his 478th start and at the age of 48, Bland has been riding a wave of positivity since, claiming top fives at the Made in HimmerLand presented by FREJA and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

His last appearance came at the The Open in Royal St George’s, where he hit the first tee shot of the Championship on Thursday morning, so the Southampton native returned to Kent this week brimming with optimism.

A seven-under 65 continued his momentum on home soil as he earned a one-stroke lead over English compatriots Dale Whitnell and Jordan Smith, as well as American duo Sihwan Kim and Sean Crocker.

“To start any tournament with three straight birdies – I hit a lovely nine iron into ten, had a nice putt downhill, a lovely soft cut five iron into about five feet at 11 and two good shots on 12, left the chip hanging over the edge – it was almost a case of it was too easy,” said Bland.

“But I just kept going, go through the same swing thoughts that I’m doing and it’s nice to look up at the ball and it’s going the direction you expect it to be going.”

Bernd Wiesberger, who is chasing a big run of results in the next four weeks as he targets a late push into the qualification places for Pádraig Harrington’s European Ryder Cup team, opened with a four under par 68 to share ninth position.

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