Paul McGinley fired a flawless opening round of 66 to trail Swedes Robert Karlsson and Johan Edfors and Holland’s Maarten Lafeber by two shots in the Portugal Masters.
McGinley’s bogey-free round at the Oceanico Victoria course was his best on the European Tour since his opening 66 in the Madrid Masters back in May and came on a day when all eight Irish players in the field matched or broke par.
Damien McGrane endured ups-and-downs on his way to a five-under par finish, while Shane Lowry and Peter Lawrie are one shot further back after their 68s.
McGrane notched up eight birdies but opened and closed his round in disappointing fashion, dropping shots on the first and final hole while Lawrie finished with a disappointing double bogey six at the ninth.
Ulsterman Gareth Maybin is also at four under par with Michael Hoey a further two shots adrift after a solid round containing 16 pars.
Darren Clarke and Simon Thornton (playing with borrowed clubs after getting into the field as a late reserve while on holiday with his wife) could only manage rounds of level par on a day of low scoring in Vilamoura.
Clarke’s round included a spell in the middle of his front nine of 6,2,8,2 which equated to double bogey, birdie, quadruple bogey, birdie.
European Ryder Cup vice-captain McGinley roared out of the traps with four birdies in his opening six holes, before two birdies on the opening nine, his back nine, saw him round in 66 and earn a tie for sixth place.
McGinley, currently ranked 376 in the world has missed seven of his last 10 cuts on the European Tour, lies two shots adrift of former Ryder Cup player Karlsson, Edfors and Lafeber.
“The Ryder Cup was great. It took a lot out of me and I really enjoyed it,” McGinley said. “It’s just nice to shoot a score.”
Feeling strong after the sixth knee operation of his career kept him out of action for the early part of the season, McGinley is hoping for a good finish to the year.
He said: “I’ve had five months off with the injury at the start of the season so I feel I have a lot of golf to play before the year is out. I have tournaments the next two weeks and then two more in Asia.”
Of the leaders, Karlsson has finished second and third on this course in the past and is well placed after eight birdies and 10 pars on Thursday, while Lafeber had to recover from a double bogey at his ninth hole to sign for his impressive 64.