Niall Kearney fired an opening two-under-par round of 70 to grab a share of 3rd after an extremely tricky day one of the HotelPlanner.com PGA EuroPro Tour Sky Sports Tour Championship.
The Royal Dublin professional, who currently lies 10th in the Race to Amendoeira standings, needs a top-2 finish and results to go his way to break into the first five in the Order of Merit rankings, thus securing a precious Challenge Tour card for 2018.
A bogey at the first did little to deter the confidence either as Kearney roared back with three birdies on the front half to make the turn in 34.
Another bogey at 10 halted the momentum before two more gains either side of a dropped shot at the par-3 16th brought him home in 36, just two shots off the lead.
The one Irishman currently in position to secure a golden ticket is Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell who holds 4th place in the top-5. However with a double prize fund of £100,000 on offer this week, Caldwell’s advantage is a precarious one.
Worse still, having opened with a two over par round of 74, Jonathan will be well aware of those breathing down his neck already.
Of the chasing pack, Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy traded three birdies and two bogeys to hold solo fifth at the event on a very respectable one under par. Dermot currently lies in 7th place in the Tour standings and at just £4,000 behind 5th place, he’ll be hoping to build on a great start to launch himself into the automatic qualification spots.
Of the rest of the Irish, Nairn and Portnoo’s Brendan McCarroll is in a tie for 17th on two over par. Brian Casey is four shos further back after a disappointing 78, while Tim Rice had a day to forget, the Limerick professional slumping to an 81.
England’s Adam Chapman shot an excellent four-under par (68) to hold a one-shot lead heading into the second round of the Championship.
Chapman (Carus Green Golf Club) collected five birdies and just a single bogey on a day which saw only five players finish under par.
Race To Amendoeria leader Chris Lloyd withdrew from play just minutes before his tee time, providing ample opportunity for the likes of MK Kim (Golfmind Korea) and Nick Marsh (Huddersfield Golf Club) to launch a late attack for the Order of Merit top spot.
However, none of the other top five golfers in the Order of Merit shot under-par first rounds which Lloyd will be pleased to see.
Strong winds of almost 40mph from midday onwards meant scores stayed well above par for the majority of the field, but not in Chapman’s case.
“I got off to good a start, three-under par after six holes. I hit the ball really well, and only dropped a shot on the 7th.”: said Chapman, who is seeking his first win on the EuroPro Tour this season.
He added: “I feel like everything came together really well today, I probably had about two and half holes with little wind, but soon after it picked up and it was a struggle from then onwards.”
On the prospect of winning in Amendoeira Chapman said: “It would mean the world to me, I’ve been pretty disappointed with my season so far so a win here would make things a lot better.”
Live scoring is available at www.europrotour.com.