Three successive birdies to finish helped Gary Hurley turn an average round of golf into a very good one as he maintained his promotion push to the Challenge Tour on day one of the Alps Tour Grand Final in Modena.
Birdies on the 16th, 17th and 18th moved Hurley alongside compatriot Jonathan Yates to five-under-par and just one off the pace after a 67.
Both Hurley and Yates share second place while Austrian Lukas Lipold leads on six-under after a 66.
The West Waterford native teed off occupying the fourth promotion spot out of five available and made an unconvincing start with a nervous bogey on the first.
Back-to-back birdies on the fourth and fifth steadied the ship but a second dropped shot of the day on the par-3 6th saw the 29-year-old fall back to level-par and six shots off the early lead.
The Saadiyat Beach Golf Club ambassador responded well with birdies on the tenth and fourteenth holes to move to two-under which would have been a solid round considering the pressure on his shoulders.
However, Hurley has been in fantastic form and has found a new gear to his mental game and that showed in his sensational finish.
A birdie on the difficult 16th where there were just seven gains all day was followed by birdies on the 17th and 18th as he ensured his destiny remained in his own hands heading into the final 36 holes.
A second Alps Tour win of the season is on the cards but the former Walker Cup player is staying in the moment.
“Today was a good round, a nice finish. I played ok, I hit some nice shots, I hit some funny shots. I definitely left a few shots out there today but then it gave me a few shots coming in which was nice. Today was a good day. It definitely was a good start.”
Naas professional Yates posted an early score of 67 in a bogey-free round that also included back-to-back closing birdies.
At 20th in the Order of Merit heading into the week, Yates couldn’t earn promotion to the Challenge Tour but another strong performance this week would leave him in good stead ahead of next month’s DP World Tour Qualifying School Second Stage.
Yates also birdied the third, fourth and seventh holes in a front nine of 33 and is taking a nothing to lose attitude into the week.
“Today was very enjoyable playing with Manuel, we had a stress-free round with a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. I played better around the turn but unfortunately missed a few putts. However, it was nice to get rewarded towards the end of the round and finish with two birdies. Overall it was a good solid round.” I’m looking forward. I’m just looking to win, I have nothing to lose and nothing to gain so I’m just trying to win.”
Mallow man James Sugrue is the third Irishman in the field and the 2019 Amateur champion is two-over after an opening 74.