Barrie Trainor is perfectly placed to overhaul David Higgins and snatch the Lexus Race to Mount Juliet after opening with a four under par 68 in the 36-hole, year-ending bonanza.
The Ulsterman had six birdies in brilliant first round effort at the stunning Kilkenny venue outside Thomastown to share the lead with Headfort’s Brendan McGoven.
Trainor had four birdies on an error-free card to join bogey-free McGovern at the top and move one stroke clear of recently crowned Irish Assistants champion Seamus McMonagle (69).
Higgins leads the Order of Merit by just 577.91 points from Trainor and while the Waterville player opened his title with defence with a two under par 70 worth a share of fourth place with Clontarf’s Eamonn Brady, he knows that he must simply finish ahead of his rival after two rounds to retain the title.
Belfast’s Damian Mooney, third in the Order of Merit, had a disappointing three over par 75 to kiss his title chances all but goodbye while fourth-ranked Michael Collins is also a long shot now after signing for a two over 74.
Trainor opened with three straight birdies and while he bogeyed the par five fifth and the tough 13th, birdies at the 10th, 12th and 15th saw him match McGovern’s clubhouse lead.