Cormac Sharvin is leading the home charge after he signed for a four-under-par score of 67 on day one of the Galgorm Resort and Spa NI Open, presented by Modest! Golf.
The Ardglass professional fired an eagle and four birdies to sneak just inside the top-10 in a share of 9th spot, three shots off the lead after a confident start on a familiar footing.
That was one shot better than Rosapenna’s Ruaidhri McGee and Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell who returned fine opening efforts of three-under-par.
With a whole host of Irish involvement this week, Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan is next best after starting his NI Open bid with a two-under 70.
That proved one less than Michael Hoey who knows a big week this week will enhance his chances of earning his playing rights on the Main Tour via the Order of Merit standings at the end of the season.
There’s a quartet of Irish at even par too with Michael McGeady, Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy, Naas’ Conor O’Rourke and Old Conna’s Neil O’Briain all hovering around mid-table after settled starts.
While Niall Kearney, Stephen Grant, Kevin Phelan, Brendan McCarroll and Chris Selfridge find themselves just on the wrong side of par at plus one and in a tie for 81st.
Galway’s Amateur participant, Ronan Mullarney finds himself alongside the likes of Dublin duo Gavin Moynihan and Paul McBride at plus two while Gary Hurley endured a day to forget at plus six for the tournament.
At the summit, Stuart Manley once again finds himself at the top of the leaderboard on the European Challenge Tour following an opening round of 64 at the Galgorm Resort.
The Welshman, who sits in sixth place on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah, was in imperious form at Galgorm Castle, carding seven birdies to sign for a bogey-free score and claim a share of the first round lead alongside South Korea’s Minkyu Kim.
Following one victory, two top-five finishes and two further top-ten results this season, Manley knows he is well-placed to regain his European Tour playing rights – something another good result could all but guarantee this week.
“It would be great to get the job done this week,” he said. “It has been a very successful and consistent season so far so it would be a great to get a couple more big finishes and secure my card for next year.
“I putted very well, kept the ball in play and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to play today so I’m very happy with my start.
“I have been struggling with my neck since Saturday but credit to the European Tour’s physio team as without them I wouldn’t have been able to play for sure.
“Because of that I probably did have less expectations coming into today. It’s a very well set up golf course – very much like a European Tour course because if you’re offline you will be in thick rough and the greens are quick.
“I did have a lot of joy on the par threes today and it does reward you here if you are straight off of the tee – which I was today. I had a couple of good par saves at 16 and 17 and was unlucky not to birdie 18 so all in all it was a very good day’s work.
“I had a really good day on the greens – even though my putter is actually broken at the moment! It’s going to be fixed next week but I am definitely panicking a bit as it has been red hot all year.”
Also impressing in Northern Ireland was Kim. The 17-year-old, who became the youngest player to win on the Challenge Tour following his victory in the D+D REAL Czech Challenge in May, carded one eagle, six birdies and one bogey and was delighted to return to form following a difficult stretch.
“I played very well today,” he said. “I putted very well and I was perfect off of the tee until the last two holes where on 17 and 18 I missed the fairway by a long way, but I still managed to come away with a bogey and a par. It wasn’t a great finish but overall I am very happy with my performance today.
“At the start of day I didn’t expect that I would play so well. After winning in the Czech Republic I have struggled to find form, but this week I am feeling really focused and so far that has shown in my play.
“The weather was very mixed today – one minute sunshine, then one minute rain – but the course is in excellent condition and I really like it here.
“It’s my first time in Northern Ireland and so far I have really enjoyed it – hopefully I can keep playing so well over the rest of the week.”
One shot off the pace are Englishmen Richard Finch and Marcus Armitage and Denmark’s Victor Gebhard Østerby, who all carded six-under-par rounds of 65.
Scores after Round One:
64 M Kim (Kor) , S Manley (Wal) ,
65 R Finch (Eng) , M Armitage (Eng) , V Østerby (Den) ,
66 J Senior (Eng) , C Hill (Sco) , M Haastrup (Den) ,
67 B Stow (Eng) , C Sharvin (Nir) , E España (Fra) , S Henry (Sco) , M Carlsson (Swe) , E Di Nitto (Ita) , R Kellett (Sco) ,
68 J Huldahl (Den) , D Stewart (Sco) , R McGee (Irl) , J Brun (Fra) , S Locke (Sco) , S Hutsby (Eng) , R McGowan (Eng) , M Gaspar (Por) , L Van Meijel (Ned) , M Orrin (Eng) , J Caldwell (Nir) , C Braeunig (Ger) , D Huizing (Ned) , V Perez (Fra) ,
69 R Saxton (Ned) , J Vecchi Fossa (Ita) , R Langasque (Fra) , E Ferguson (Sco) , D Perrier (Fra) , N Johansson (Swe) , A Knappe (Ger) , C Tarren (Eng) , J Carlota (Por) , S Grehan (Irl) , W Besseling (Ned) , J White (Eng) , M Schneider (Ger) , J Singh Brar (Eng) ,
70 J McDonald (Sco) , M Ovesen (Den) , M Lampert (Ger) , R Santos (Por) , I Cantero Gutierrez (Esp) , B Easton (RSA) , M Galiano Aguilar (Esp) , R Enoch (Wal) , H Joannes (Bel) , J McLeary (Sco) , M Hoey (Nir) , F Laporta (Ita) , C Del Moral (Esp) ,
71 L Nemecz (Aut) , C Feldborg Nielsen (Swe) , N Geyger (Chi) , R Roussel (Fra) , L Ruuska (Fin) , N Møller (Den) , D Berna Manzanares (Esp) , M Schmitt (Ger) , J Allan (Eng) , N O’Briain (Irl) , M McGeady (Irl) , C O’Rourke (Irl) , J Doherty (Sco) , E Johansen (Nor) , F Maccario (Ita) , T Tree (Eng) , S Einhaus (Ger) , B Parker (Eng) , B Ritthammer (Ger) , D McElroy (Nir) , S Gregory (Eng) , G Migliozzi (Ita) , B Evans (Eng) , R Van West (Ned) ,
72 K Phelan (Irl) , K Hesbois (Bel) , B McCarroll (Irl) , D Brown (Eng) , A Tadini (Ita) , C Selfridge (Nir) , R Fitzgerald (Eng) , J Rutherford (Eng) , S Grant (Irl) , S Dyson (Eng) , N Kearney (Irl) , J Munro (Aus) , J Girrbach (Sui) , N Kimsey (Eng) , T Murray (Eng) , D Law (Sco) , M Iten (Sui) ,
73 A Velasco (Esp) , R Kilpatrick (Nir) , D Løkke (Den) , F Palson (Swe) , P Mejow (Ger) , P Maddy (Eng) , R De Sousa (Sui) , J Galbraith (Nir) , J Brooks (Eng) , L Johnston (Sco) , H Leon (Chi) , J Van Der Vaart (Ned) , S Matus (Cze) , B Hellgren (Swe) , J Adams (Eng) , J Sainz (Esp) , P McBride (Irl) , G Moynihan (Irl) , R Mullarney (am) (Irl) , L Acikalin (am) (Tur) ,
74 C Doak (Sco) , O Wilson (Eng) , J Erkenbeck (USA) , M Fenasse (Fra) , G Wright (Wal) , J Kunzenbacher (Ger) ,
75 A Chapman (Eng) , M Madsen (Den) , N Grau Tomas (Esp) , M Trappel (Aut) , A Bernadet (Fra) , X Puig (Esp) , D Papadatos (Aus) , R Sciot-Siegrist (Fra) , L Buijs (Bel) , D Carey (Irl) , N Marsh (Eng) , F Bergamaschi (Ita) , D Foos (Ger) , H Casey (Eng) ,
76 B Eccles (Aus) , A Hodkinson (Eng) , J Sharp (Eng) , K Ventura (Nor) , R Macintyre (Sco) , S Towndrow (Eng) ,
77 B Casey (Irl) , G Hurley (Irl) , P Kelly (Eng) , U Coussaud (Fra) , C Sahlstrom (Swe) , A Singh Brar (am) (Eng) ,
78 A Boasson (Isl) ,
79 A Ahokas (Fin) , P Howard (Eng) ,
81 Z Felder (Sui) , G Forrest (Sco) ,
82 M Dallat (Nir) ,
84 J Dillon (Irl) ,