For the second successive year, Michael Hoey produced a superb five-under par opening round of 66 to lead an otherwise quiet Irish challenge after day one of the Magical Kenya Open presented by Absa.
The first test on the Challenge Tour calendar saw the five-time European tour winner race out in front after the morning session as he closed with three consecutive birdies and six in all to sit in a share of 4th spot at five-under par.
Hoey arrived at Karen Country Club looking to maintain momentum after a productive fortnight in Australia in January. There, he claimed a tie for 17th at the Vic Handa Open before clocking a top-50 at the World Super 6 in Perth.
Now, in his 17th season on Tour, the man from Ballymoney looks to be playing some of his best stuff in years and with Hoey now hoping to make his experience count in order to mount his challenge come the back nine on Sunday in Southern Africa.
“I was five-under after the first round in Kenya last year too – I’m not sure what it is about is about Nairobi,” said a thrilled Hoey.
“I am staying with a great Irish family this week who have been here for 27 years and they have been really good hosts, telling me a lot about Kenya. I stayed with them ten years ago so to catch up with them has been great – great food and great hospitality.
“I have played a lot in Africa so I am really used to the altitude here, I know how far the ball is going and my caddy was really good today.
“I judged the wind really well as it was quite tricky out there. It is very similar to Joburg and I think having that experience will work to my advantage this week.”
Where Hoey soared, unfortunately Robin Dawson plummeted after an extended few weeks away from competition. The Tramore professional, now in his first full season in the paid ranks, will need to conjure something special to make the weekend cut after slumping to a 12-over par 83 that sees him propping up the board heading into day two.
In better news, Ardglass professional, Cormac Sharvin enjoyed a sound start to his campaign with a two-under par 69 to open his account.
An eagle on 6 proved the highlight with two bogeys and two birdies all told in an effort that puts Sharvin in a share of 14th overnight.
While Gavin Moyinhan sits mid-table after the Dubliner traded three birdies with four bogeys for a one-over par tally on day one.
Jack Singh Brar catapulted his way up the leaderboard with a late birdie blitz to take a share of the first-round lead alongside Louis de Jager.
The Englishman, who is a European Tour rookie after graduating from the Challenge Tour last season, produced a stunning eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie finish to sign for a bogey-free seven-under par round of 64 in Nairobi.
Despite windy conditions at Karen Country Club, South Africa’s de Jager also shined in the Kenyan sun, bagging seven birdies and an eagle to join Singh Brar at the top of the leaderboard.
One shot off the lead is India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar. The European Tour winner is well-placed to contend again after 18 holes thanks to a blemish-free 65 on his first start in the Kenyan capital.
Two off the top are Spanish rookie Adri Arnaus and five-time European Tour champion Michael Hoey, while in-form Christian Bezuidenhout – who finished as a runner-up in Qatar last week – leads a pack of seven players who sit three shots off the pace.