Ronan Mullarney’s strong start to the Alps Tour campaign is showing no signs of stopping after the Galway man fired an opening five-under round of 66 at the Croara Alps Open in Piacenza, just south of Milan.
Currently ranked second in the Alps Tour Order of Merit in which the top five at the end of the year earn Challenge Tour cards, Mullarney knows that another win or series of good finishes will leave him in an extremely strong position to capture one of the coveted cards.
Starting his opening round amongst the early wave, he’d go bogey free, making birdies at the par-4 fourth, par-5 sixth and par-4 eighth holes to make the turn at -3, before adding two more at the par-4 12th and par-5 17th holes, which saw the Gosser Open winner end the day tied for fourth and just two off the lead.
“I was very happy with my round,” Mullarney said afterwards. “I was one of the first out so we got good greens and it was nice to get them fairly smooth. Controlled the ball well. Scoring is pretty good so I’ll probably need at least one more round like that and ideally two, so just hoping for more of the same.
“I hit it just left off the first and had to get up and down from about 60 yards for par. I think I holed an eight-footer but other than that it was pretty plain sailing. I missed a short one for birdie on 15, but it was on the side of a slope and it was a good bit outside the hole from about three feet, so missing that one was a bit irritating but other than that it was good golf so I’m very happy.”
Asked if going bogey free for a round of five under was preferential to six birdies and one bogey, Mullarney didn’t agree. “Some players are like that,” he said, “but I’m not hugely like that because that putt I missed on 15 felt like a bogey. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but I’d have preferred to shoot six-under and have one bogey and seven birdies.”
Having gone from very soft to rock hard in recent weeks, the conditions are more optimal for scoring this week. “Conditions are good, it’s a nice golf course as well,” he said. “It’s soft, and quite easy to stop a ball on the greens, but it’s definitely not sludgy.
“For me, it’s more in relation to the shot I hit. Generally, if I can I’ll use driver so I might hit a low running one instead of a high one, or I might hit a little cut so it lands softer, then if the greens are very soft I’ll use an older wedge with the grooves worn down so the ball doesn’t come tearing backwards and then if the greens are firm I’ll use a newer wedge.”
Paul Murphy and Paul McBride shot matching one-under rounds of 70 to finish to lie tied for 32nd after day one. Murphy recovered from a triple-bogey seven on the 13th with birdies at 14, 16 and 18 having covered the front nine in one-under, while McBride responded to three bogeys in a row at the start of the day with an eagle on the par-5 sixth and birdies on the ninth and 18th holes.
Michael Young is one shot further adrift after matching four birdies and four bogeys, while James Sugrue birdied two of his last four holes having covered the back nine – his opening nine – in five-over to end the day tied for 95th at +3, and he’ll need to go low tomorrow if he’s to earn his place in Saturday’s final round.
Italian Ludovico Addabbo leads the way on -7 after a grandstand finish that saw him play the last four in five under, courtesy of eagles on the sixth and ninth holes with a birdie on the eighth, and he leads fellow countryman Edoardo Giletta and Holland’s Lars Keunen by a single stroke, with Mullarney part of a four-way tie for fourth that includes Spain’s Quim Vidal and Italy’s Enrico Di Netto, ranked fourth and sixth respectively on the Order of Merit.