Kearney kicks season into gear with opening 71 at Fancourt

Adam McKendry
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Niall Kearney (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Niall Kearney is the best of the Irish at the Challenge Tour’s Dimension Data Pro-Am in South Africa, however all four players are well adrift of the leaders after the opening day’s play at Fancourt Golf Estate.

The Royal Dublin man shot a two-under 71 consisting of three birdies and one bogey on The Links course to trail leaders Adrien Saddier and Daniel Hillier by seven shots and share 51st.

John Murphy, back from his first PGA Tour start at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last week, opened with a one-under 71 on the Monatgu course, while Gavin Moynihan shot the same score at the same venue.

It was a tougher day for Paul Dunne on The Links course as the Greystones man began his return from injury with a one-over 74 marred by a double-bogey seven early in his round.

Kearney had a relatively uneventful round all things considered, birdieing his second hole and then parring his next ten holes before picking up back-to-back shots at the 13th and 14th, however he would end his round with a bogey at the 16th for a 71.

A shot further back, Murphy shook off the jet-lag of travelling back from California with two late birdies to finish under-par, the 23-year-old having shared two birdies with three bogeys in his first 14 holes before birdies at the 15th and 18th got him back into the red.

That is good for a share of 75th alongside Moynihan, the Donabate man similarly finishing strongly after playing his front nine on the Montagu course in one-over but adding birdies at the 11th and 17th in a bogey-free back nine to sign for a 71.

Dunne, meanwhile, was always playing from behind as a double-bogey at the par-five fifth dropped him back, and it was compounded by a bogey at the 10th, although he did rescue his round somewhat with birdies on 11 and 17 to finish one-over.

Saddier’s 63 on the Outeniqua course has him tied atop the leaderboard with Hillier, who added a 64 on The Links, with both players bogey-free on their opening day at Fancourt Estate.

The pair hold a one-shot lead over Switzerland’s Robert Foley, who had two eagles, six birdies and two bogeys on his way to an eight-under 64 on the Outeniqua, with Hillier pleased that he got the bounces in his opening round.

“It was just one of those days where everything seems to go your way,” said the 2021 Challenge Costa Brava winner.

“I definitely got away with a couple in the middle and it was a nice little save on the last but apart from a couple of shots I played really well. I hit the ball probably as well as I have done for a while and I made a few good putts along the way.

“It was pretty benign this morning, especially for our front nine, so it was nice to take advantage of that and then, the course is not playing easy, you still have to hit good shots, but you get rewarded when you do. I kept plotting my way around the course, not taking any unnecessary risks and just kept plodding along and made a few more birdies than I thought I would.

“I think you just have to stay patient. There are plenty of chances out there, it’s pretty easy to try and force the issue but I just kept sticking to my process and putting as much intent as I could into every shot.

“The goal is to win this week. I’ve got myself in a good position at the moment and hopefully I can keep going the way I am.”

Kearney tees off at the Montagu at 6.33am Irish time on Friday morning, followed by Dunne at 7.17am, with Murphy and Moynihan beginning their second rounds on the Outeniqua course at 7.06am and 10.23am respectively.

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