Dermot McElroy burst out of the traps with six birdies on the spin to find himself just two shots off the lead after day one of the Cordon Golf Open in France.
The Ballymena man looked invincible for a time to be out in 29 and despite just managing an even par homeward nine, his stunning 64 finds him in a share of second spot on six-under-par after an impressive start.
It was a strong day for the Northern Irish contingent on the Challenge Tour as Michael Hoey fired five birdies en route to a three-under-par opening that sits him in a share of 16th after a promising 67.
Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell is just one further back in a tie for 24th after managing five birdies of his own in an encouraging round of 68.
As for the other Irish competing, both Gavin Moynihan and Cormac Sharvin find themselves in the middle of the pack and just outside the top-50 on even par. While Ruaidhri McGee (+2), Paul McBride (+4), Neil O’Briain (+5) and Stephen Grant (+6) all have their work cut out to make the halfway cut.
At the top, José-Filipe Lima made the most of scoreable morning conditions and will take a two-stroke lead into Day Two.
The 36-year-old eagled his second hole of the day and then added four birdies before the turn to card a 29 on the outward half.
Following further gains on his tenth, 15th and 16th holes, to get to nine under par, there was a noticeable buzz around the par 70 Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André that golf’s magic number, 59, might be within reach.
It was not to be however, and when he failed to make up and down from a greenside bunker at the last, Lima was forced to settle for an eight under par 62. Despite the hiccup, the man who plays under the Portuguese flag was all smiles after equalling the lowest round on the European Challenge Tour this season.
“Of course I was thinking about shooting that famous score, which went through my head out there on the course,” he said. “But it didn’t really disturb me, I just played my own game, and although I was disappointed to make the bogey on the last, I know that’s how golf goes. It always seems easier after your round finishes than it does in the moment.”
Born in Versailles, and a resident of Feucherolles, France, Lima is somewhat of a fan-favourite at the Cordon Golf Open, which is the third French event on the 2018 Road to Ras Al Khaimah.
Speaking after the round, it was clear that the comforts of familiarity were having a positive influence on him.
“I’m feeling great this week,” he said. “I’m with my family — my daughter and my wife — and that makes me feel very calm. I’ve been playing well for the last three or four months. I’ve just been trying to stay patient, and I did that today.
“I played really solid all day. I holed some putts, I missed some, but I’m very calm on the course and have been feeling like this for a few weeks now.”
Sharing second place are Jamie Abbott of England, Northern Ireland’s McElroy and Italian Alessandro Tadini, all of whom fired six-under-par 64s.
Abbott, who was playing in the same group as Lima, nearly kept pace with the Day One leader all the way around before an untimely double-bogey on his final hole of the morning wave dropped him another shot behind.
McElroy and Tadini then battled through firm and windy afternoon conditions to join the Englishman in second place and will hope to take advantage of calm weather when they tee off tomorrow morning for the second round.
Damien Perrier, who was born in nearby Rennes, currently holds low-Frenchman honours after navigating his way to a three under par 67 on the 6, 468-yard course, which is the shortest that Challenge Tour players will face all season.
Day One reminded golf fans that length is not the only trait of a difficult golf course, and with the current cut projected at level par, above the season average, players will be sure to have their work cut out for them when Day Two begins tomorrow at 8:00 am local time.
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