A pair of three-under 67s have John Murphy and David Carey leading the Irish charge on the men’s side at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational as they impressed on the opening day at Galgorm Castle and Massereene respectively.
Murphy finished with a flourish at Galgorm, birdieing the 16th and 17th before a clutch par save at the 18th gave him a share of 16th, and he was joined on that score by Carey, who had four birdies and one bogey over on the second course.
But despite being in a strong position after the first day, they are already six shots behind runaway leader Ewen Ferguson, the Scotsman producing a phenomenal bogey-free nine-under 61 to set the course record at Galgorm and open up a four-shot lead just 18 holes in.
That should not take away from the excellent displays from Murphy and Carey, though, both of whom are on fine runs of form that they have carried into this week’s tournament in Co Antrim.
Murphy, who is coming in after back-to-back third placed finishes on the Challenge Tour, looked to be heading for a middle-of-the-pack finish midway through his round, but his brilliant final stretch allowed him to make a move late on.
“It was pretty good. Hit it lovely, just made a couple bad decisions out there that cost me one or two here. Overall, played lovely. Plenty to brush up on, plenty to look forward to and I can’t wait to get going again in the morning,” he grinned.
“I’ve been very patient this year. I knew my golf was in there and I trusted that all along, I trusted the work I was doing with my team that it would come to fruition.
“Golf can be a lonely place, especially professional golf – only my caddy and I see what goes on on a daily basis, so it’s nice to reap some rewards of the work I’ve been doing. Hopefully more to come.”
Meanwhile, Carey is still riding the high of his Major debut at The Open last month and backed it up with another strong performance at Massereene as he birdied two of his last six holes to set the pace alongside Murphy.
“It was pretty solid. Hit a lot of greens and played pretty good. Didn’t hole many putts but hit a lot of good putts – sometimes that happens. Overall I’m pretty happy. Could have been a couple better but the game felt pretty good so hopefully I can continue that on,” he said.
But the man they’re all chasing is the incredible Ferguson, the 26-year-old Scot picking up his fourth course record after signing for two eagles and five birdies in a 61 that has him head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
The Qatar Masters champion is going for his second DP World Tour win of the season and was helped by two hole-out eagles – from the bunker at the par-five 10th and then he chipped in from just shy of the green at the par-five 18th – as he pulled four shots clear of Richard Bland, Borja Virto and Felix Palson.
“Obviously a 61, setting the course record is pretty nice, and here especially is pretty special,” said Ferguson, who also holds the course records at Fairmont St Andrews and Cruden’s Bay.
“Because it’s a really difficult course, I knew that when I was six-, seven-under, if I stayed around that then I would be fine. And when you do that, your putts just drop because you’re not forcing them in. I just let it flow – and obviously holing out from the bunker and chipping in at 18 helped as well.
“Actually, as I was walking up to the ball I was saying to my caddy how great it would be if I made this – nine-under 61 would be a great score. And I actually thought I was on the green, I thought I’d be chipping, so when I was short I was like ‘damn, I’m chipping’. Still fancied the chip though.”
Bland had set the initial clubhouse total with a birdie-free 65 at Massereene, which saw him birdie four out of five holes on his back nine, and he was joined in second place late in the day by another pair of bogey-free 65s at the second course from Virto and Palsen.
Greystones’ Paul Dunne carried over his form from last week’s Cazoo Open as three birdies in his final five holes at Galgorm led to a two-under 68 and a share of 23rd, with a disappointing finish from Tom McKibbin at the same course – as he bogeyed the 16th and 17th – meant he finished the day one shot further back with a 69.
Gary Hurley and Conor Purcell are both well placed in a tie for 45th after a pair of 70s at Galgorm and Massereene respectively, but the rest of the Irish contingent will have to work their way back inside the one-over cut line in their second rounds.
Limerick’s Tim Rice is the closest after he opened with a two-over 72 at Massereene, with all three of Cormac Sharvin, Simon Thornton (both Galgorm), Niall Kearney and David Higgins (both Massereene) kicking off their tournaments with 73s.
Amateur pair Josh Hill and Jack Hearn matched each other on separate courses with a 75 each at Galgorm and Massereene respectively, while Dermot McElroy struggled to a 77 and amateur Robert Brazill a 78 at Massereene, with Charlie Williams carding a 10-over 80 at Galgorm.