Jonathan Caldwell’s level-par 71 at Castlerock sees him best-placed of the 10 Irishmen who teed it up in the opening round of the ISPS Handa World Invitational spread across Castlerock and Galgorm Castle.
At the event co-sanctioned by the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour where full fields of men and women play across two courses over the four days, Clandeboye man Caldwell, who hails from Bangor, a 45-minute drive from tournament host site Galgorm, began his assault at Castlerock. He started his round on the 10th and traded two birdies with a bogey on his opening nine before carding the opposite on the way home to end up level for the day.
Little did Caldwell know, he’d end the day two shots clear of his closest Irish compatriots in the men’s division, Max Kennedy. The Royal Dublin amateur, who also started on Castlerock’s back nine, took care of the two par-5s to make the turn at -2, but a bogey, double, bogey stretch from holes one through three saw him drop to +2 and another bogey at five saw him cover the traditional routing’s opening five in five-over. He’d regroup and a closing birdie saw him reach the clubhouse at +2 and tied for 70th.
And it only got worse for the other Irish. Ballymena native Dermot McElroy made just the one birdie as he went round Galgorm in +4, eerily similar to fellow Northern Irish pro John-Ross Galbraith who also had a birdie, three bogeys and a double, albeit at entirely different holes.
Niall Kearney and Ruaidhri McGee (+5), Damien McGrane (+7), John Murphy and Tom McKibbin (+8) and Cormac Sharvin who retired after 15 complete the Irish contingent who all struggled on a day of tough scoring.
Englishman Daniel Brown had little trouble with the wind, however, firing six birdies, an eagle and just the one bogey enroute to a seven-under 64 at Castlerock whilst Italian Gregorio De Leo challenged Brown for the round of the day with a five-under 65 at Galgorm Castle, where scoring proved tougher on the opening day.
English duo Callan Barrow and Alex Fitzpatrick and India’s Manu Gandas were also at five under after all carding rounds of 66 at Castlerock.
It has been a long road to the DP World Tour for Brown, who is playing his rookie season at the age of 28 after coming through the Qualifying School.
He made his debut at the 2015 KLM Open but did not make another appearance until this season, as he spent time moving between the EuroPro Tour and European Challenge Tour, finishing 30th on last season’s Road to Mallorca.
“I felt like this week more than any other was important to get off to a good start with some bad weather forecast tomorrow,” he said. “There’s going to be times where you’re grinding it out and battling to make pars. I’ve given myself a nice little buffer really ahead of that challenge tomorrow.
“It’s probably as good as I played all year. Tee to green and was really solid. Holed out nicely inside ten to 12 feet and the front nine wasn’t too windy but then it really got up on the back nine.
“The round just kept on flowing even though the conditions got a bit tougher so it was positive after a good three or four weeks off in the schedule.”
To read a report on the opening day in the women’s event, please click here.