There were plenty of encouraging starts from an Irish perspective as the Challenge Tour returned for its latest instalment at the 56º Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort.
Cormac Sharvin sits just two shots off the lead as he returned five birdies in a three-under-par opening effort. The Ardglass professional held the first round lead in Spain last week, eventually finishing 15th, but will be hoping to take much better advantage of his fast start this time around in Portimão.
His only blip came on the par-4 13th where a double-bogey six took the gloss off an otherwise great day, but his 69 puts him in a four-way tie for second spot, just two shots off Spain’s Adri Arnaus at the head of the leaderboard.
Just one shot further adrift sees West Waterford’s Gary Hurley and Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy on two-under-par.
Hurley would have been frustrated to finish with three bogeys in his closing four holes but currently in a tie for 6th, he’ll be hoping to build on some sprouts of form already shown this season. While McElroy signed for four birdies and just the two dropped shots to post the same number.
Chris Selfridge returned from a rollercoaster ride around the luscious Morgado Resort but his five birdies and six bogeys find him alongside Naas’ Jack Hume on plus one for the tournament. Hume was quiet in comparison with his two gains cancelled out by three bogeys, the pair currently in a massive tie for 37th.
Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan endured a tough day, as did Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell, the pair languishing in a tie for 86th after day one 75s. For Naas’ Conor O’Rourke, his only birdie of the day came at the 1stas he finished one shot worse off on four-over-par.
Adri Arnaus is where they all want to be as he carded his first sub-70 round of the European Challenge Tour season to take a two-shot lead after the opening day in Portugal.
The Spaniard is closely followed by Welshman Owen Edwards, Austrian Lukas Nemecz, our boy Sharvin, and Portuguese amateur Vitor Lopes, who all carded three-under-par rounds of 69 to sit two off the pace after 18 holes in Portimão. The 23-year-old teed off early this morning on the sun-kissed course and set the pace with a blemish-free front nine.
Birdies on the par-4 fourth and the par-5 seventh helped him on his way before he gained another shot on the ninth hole to reach the turn in 33.
Arnaus, who won twice as an amateur on the satellite Alps Tour last season, added another birdie to his card on the 12thbefore extending his advantage at the short par-4 15th.
The 624-yard 16th hole did not cause him any trouble as he walked off with a par, before coming into the clubhouse with successive pars to set the pace for the rest of the field in the afternoon.
Following two missed cuts in his first three starts this term, Arnaus was delighted with his bogey-free 67 which he believed was the result of ‘trusting his proccess’.
“Today was a lot of fun,” he said. “I played the golf I like to play as I was always in position and was able to look for the green in the best meaning I could try to make some putts.
“I had a lot of birdie opportunities and took advantage of five of them – I had no errors as well, which was key. I’ve been playing really good tee to green for most of this season, and today I was able to make some putts.
“I had a huge drive on seven which allowed me to hit a six iron into the green and that was definitely a moment which got me going – that was a good birdie there. I think I had a good up-and-down on eight and a birdie on nine.
“Then I thought ‘okay, let’s play a good back nine’ and I really had a good round.
“I haven’t had the best start to the season but my coach has kept telling me to stay calm, be patient and trust in the process.”
The wind whipped up later in the day and several players looked to challenge Arnaus for top spot. However, it was the four of Edwards, Lopes, Nemecz, and Sharvin, who take a share of second at the end of Day One.
All of that group carded four birdies and one bogey, but it was the card of Portuguese amateur Lopes that shone the brightest from the chasing pack.
The 21-year-old, on his debut Challenge Tour appearance, claimed two birdies on the front nine then added another gain at the tricky 11th–
one of only 13 on the hole all day – before dropping his first shot on the 17th.
However, the bogey did nothing but spur him on for a strong final hole. With the clubhouse in sight the youngster rolled in a 25 foot birdie putt to take him up to tied second and finish the day as the leading Portuguese player.