John Murphy sits just two shots off the lead after the opening round of the Empordà Challenge after an excellent back-nine performance on day one in Girona, Spain.
The Kinsale man had looked on track for a disappointing round at the turn at Empordà Golf after starting at the 10th and carding just two bogeys at the par-fours 16th and 17th to finish the first half of his round one-over.
However, he found his scoring touch on the back-nine as he hauled himself back to level-par with back-to-back birdies at the par-four second and par-three third, and two birdies in his final two holes – at the par-fours seventh and ninth – saw him record a two-under 68.
That has him a pair of shots off the top of the leaderboard, with Spanish duo Alejandro del Rey and Manuel Elvira tied with Finland’s Matias Honkala for the lead after the three all returned four-under 66s in their opening rounds.
Honkala had held the solo lead at five-under, only to drop his only shot of the day at the 18th, while Del Rey mixed seven birdies with three bogeys and Elvira carded an eagle, three birdies and just one bogey.
The trio’s lead is just one shot, with a massive group of 13 players all sitting at three-under-par after rounds of 67, including the in-form Javier Sainz who is looking to win his second event on home soil, with Murphy among the group a shot further back at two-under.
It looked like it was going to be an excellent opening round for Paul Dunne as well, only for the Greystones man to fall away on his back nine in a day of two halves.
The 29-year-old did superbly to bounce back from an opening bogey with four birdies by the 10th to reach three-under and just one shot off the lead, but just when it looked like he could make a run for the top of the leaderboard, he triple-bogeyed the par-four 14th and then bogeyed his final hole to finish at one-over after a 71.
Meanwhile, Conor Purcell and Paul McBride both have plenty of work to do if they are going to miss the cut as they both signed for two-over 72s to sit 85th, while Ruaidhri McGee will need a big turnaround in fortunes after a six-over 76.