Conor Purcell leads the Irish charge after day one of the Challenge de Espana as Wilco Nienaber stormed into the lead on a windy opening day as, a six-under par round of 66 opened a one-stroke advantage at Iberostar Real Club de Golf Novo Sancti Petri.
Purcell who has been in fine form on the Alps Tour this season shot a level-par 71 that included two birdies and two bogeys.
After opening his round with nine straight pars, the Portmarnock native raced to two-under with birdies on the tenth and thirteenth but gave those shots back with bogeys on 16 and 18.
While the former Walker Cupper might have a sour taste in his mouth it was a good day at the office as he made the step up to Europe’s second-tier.
By day’s end there were no Irish players under-par as Purcell’s compatriots all struggled in Cadiz.
Holywood starlet Tom McKibbin failed to replicate his early season form that has seen him rocket to 15th on the Road to Mallorca Rankings as he fell to a two-over 73.
Kinsale’s John Murphy continued his slow start to the season and he is a shot further back on three-over.
The Cork man missed the cut at the Byron Nelson last week in his latest venture on the PGA Tour and he is under pressure to make the weekend in Spain.
Both Gavin Moynihan and Paul Dunne have mountains to climb to guarantee some weekend action at five-over and six-over respectively.
Everyone is staring up at the talented South African Nienaber at the summit.
Nienaber started as he meant to go on with an eagle at the par five second hole – the only one of the day – before adding four birdies to his bogey-free round to move one shot clear of Switzerland’s Jeremy Freiburghaus, who is second on five under par.
The South African made light work of the high winds which hampered many of his fellow afternoon competitors, highlighted by the big-hitting 22-year-old being the only afternoon starter inside the top 18 after the first round.
“I’m really pleased. Six under in any conditions is quite nice,” he said. “I don’t think I made a bogey today either, so it’s quite nice.
“It wasn’t easy, I just tried to keep the ball in play off the tee, pretty low off the tee and keep it in between the trees. Once it got above the trees, it got really tricky so that was the gameplan for the day.
“It was tough. Par threes without wind are really good par threes on this golf course, I think I had one downwind so it was really tough hitting low four irons and trying to control that while not really feeling that on the tees because you’re so sheltered. I’m really pleased with the score.”
Nienaber has his coach, Quintin Williams, caddying for only the second time in his career this week as he looks to convert his good work on the range to the golf course.
“Having my coach on the bag is different, he doesn’t do the coaching part on the golf course, I wouldn’t like that. It’s just another approach,” he explained.
“We’re trying to see if it might help because I find on the driving range I can do whatever I like but there’s something on the golf course that I’m not quite doing right, so that’s why he’s caddying for me. I’m trying to figure a couple of things out and just tidy it up.”
Seven players share third place on three under par, including Spanish duo Eduardo de la Riva, who won this event in 2012, and Pedro Oriol, as well as Welshman David Boote, Swedes Mikael Lindberg and Felix Paston, Finland’s Alex Hietala and Englishman Mitch Waite.
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