Robert Moran and Peter O’Keeffe both carded opening 66s to share the overnight lead after day one of the St Andrews Links Trophy as eight Irish ended the round in red figures on the New Course.
It was a day of low scoring and both Moran and O’Keeffe laid the foundations for their scores by taking advantage of the generous scoring holes on the front nine.
Castle’s Moran opened with a birdie before eagling the par-5 3rd while Douglas’ O’Keeffe started birdie, birdie, albatross in a sensational stretch.
Moran added further birdies on the 8th and 12th holes as he signed for a blemish free round to share the led alongside O’Keeffe, Jack Ingham (Netherlands), Ronan Kleu (Switzerland) and Erik Jansson (Sweden).
“I played pretty solid only missed three greens and then I missed the green on 6, 10 and 13 and they were tricky enough up and downs so my short game stood to it,” said the 23-year-old who finished third at this event last year.
“The eagle on the third I didn’t hit the best tee shot it was just in the fairway it was playing quite short so I hit an 8-iron to 35-feet which I was happy with because I wanted to make an easy birdie and play away from a tricky flag – even though Peter O’Keeffe doesn’t think it’s tricky! I rolled it in then so that was satisfying to get rewarded for smart play.
“I enjoy St Andrews it’s a pretty nice place to be even just to walk around is special. My expectations weren’t high really because I had never played the New Course until practice but I have a local caddie which is very helpful. He was good at reading greens so it’s a bonus to have him.”
Both Moran and O’Keeffe travelled as part of the provisional Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad as they look to impress Stuart Wilson on the site of September’s contest with the USA.
Of the Irish Walker Cup panelists Mark Power (Kilkenny) shares 18th on two-under-par after a 69 that included a double bogey on 5 and a triple bogey on 6. Standing on +4 he played his next twelve holes in six-under-par including responding from his triple bogey with five birdies in six holes.
Brabazon Trophy winner Liam Nolan (Galway) will rue his back nine after he bogeyed his last three holes to sign for a two-over 73 while Hugh Foley (Royal Dublin) continues to wait to catch fire after opening with a four-over 75.
The R&A announced a new Open Championship exemption for elite amateur golfers: The player who gains the most points from the World Amateur Golf Ranking after the St Andrews Links Trophy, The Amateur and European Amateur will earn a spot at the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
Plenty of Irish will be hoping they can force their way into the Walker Cup panel despite not making the provisional squad but this has now added another incentive to perform well.
Former Irish Amateur champion Colm Campbell shares 10th place on three-under after a 68 and he also started well with birdies in three of his first four holes.
East of Ireland champion Alex Maguire (Laytown&Bettystown) continues to pose selection headaches for GB&I and he showed no signs of fatigue as he opened with a one-under 70 while the man he beat in a playoff Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) maintained his remarkable consistency despite a limited playing schedule with a two-under 69.
Roganstown starlet Sean Keeling was the first Irishman on course and he signed for a one-under 70 as did Roscommon’s Thomas Higgins.
Enniscorthy’s Paul Conroy is level-par while Jack Hearn is +1.
Joshua Hill is alongside Nolan on +2 as Luke O’Neill of Connemara sits on three-over. Richard Knightly is alongside his club mate Foley on four-over as is Rob Brazill who eagled the par-5 8th before five bogeys in six holes on the back nine scuppered his round.
Carton House man Marc Boucher rounds off the Irish challenge on eight-over-par.