Ryan Gribben and Eddie Tracey will sleep on a two-shot lead after day one of the 113th PGA Championship in Carne Golf Links as the Wild Atlantic Dunes played true to its name.
Gribben and Tracey were the only two players to shoot in red figures on an extremely challenging day in Belmullet with no other players from the 102 starting field breaking par.
Naas professional Gribben got the best of the day, teeing off in glorious Wild Atlantic Sunshine which he took advantage of reeling off three birdies in his first four holes to lay the foundation for his opening round 71.
Gribben remained on three-under until the 17th tee and as the rain began to spray sideways he finished with back-to-back closing bogeys but was still pleased to be at the summit.
“I’m very happy, especially not having played the course beforehand so I definitely would have taken it before I teed off and would have taken it through nine when I was three-under so yeah, very happy,” said Gribben who walked the golf course on Wednesday.
“I needed to get off to a good start I remember talking to Cian Geraghty about it he was three or four-under through five last year and he shot in the 60s so build a score in the first few holes and hang on tight.
“I did walk the golf course yesterday evening, but undulations and stuff are like nothing in the country. Wild Atlantic Dunes is an apt name! Couple of bogeys to finish but I didn’t mind. Seventeen is a par four playing like a par five and eighteen I made a decent six in the end so I’m actually happy enough with that.”
He was joined late in the day by PGA in Ireland captain Tracey (Ballina) who finished strong with a birdie on 15 and three closing pars having dropped a shot on the 12th.
Tracey opened with a birdie and added further gains on the par fives 4 and 8 while dropping shots on the second and ninth.
Crucially for both players they kept the double bogeys off the card and were two of just five players to do so.
Big names are in hot pursuit of the unlikely duo with two-time PGA champion David Higgins (Waterville) and three-time PGA champion Simon Thornton (Spa) just two shots off the pace on one-over alongside Sunshine Tour professional Richard O’Donovan after rounds of 73.
Lucan man O’Donovan had a quick start to the season winning three times but has been struggling with a back injury over the last month and he is just looking to get through the week unscathed and see where it leaves him.
“I’m happy with my score, conditions were really, really difficult,” said O’Donovan. It’s just a battle with the elements trying to keep dry and make good decisions with the wind, I got caught out on the front nine a bit but after that I played pretty decent and didn’t make too many mistakes.
“Holes six to ten were the most difficult and looking at the scores that’s where I dropped my shots so yeah, just happy to keep it together and reduce the mistakes.
Brian McCormack and Kilkenny’s Jimmy Bolger are in a share of sixth place on two-over while Eric Byrne, Gavin Young and Order of Merit winner Richard Kilpatrick round off the top-10 on plus four.
Defending champion Damien McGrane shares eleventh place on five-over.