Simon Thornton is enjoying his status as a tour winner. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Peter Lawrie’s hopes of going to the final regular event of the season in Australia next week with his tour card safely tucked in his back pocket were dealt a massive blow when he opened with a six over 77 in the Portugal Masters at Vilamoura.

A triple bogey seven at the dangerous 14th, his fifth hole of the day, completely unhinged the Dubliner and left him facing an eighth missed cut from his last nine starts.

Struggling off the tee all summer, Lawrie pulled his tee shot into the hazard, dropped on a forward teeand found water again before pitching a two-putting for a triple bogey.

Three more bogeys followed in a 34-putt round, leaving Lawrie 123rd in th 126-man field and needing a miraculous second round to make the weekend.

At 111th in the money list with just 110 keeping their cards, he will have one last chance to avoid Q-School in the Perth International, which is a fate that also faces 114th ranked David Higgins, who three putted his final hole for a level par 72 that left him just outside the predicted cut mark alongside Paul McGinley.

Simon Thornton knows exactly how Lawrie feels having made seven trips to the Q-School himself. But having won in St Omer in June, the adopted Irishman is playing freewheling golf for the first time in his career and can see the players who are struggling, not by looking at their money list position but simply by observing them in action.

He played brilliantly in the opening round, carding a six under par 65 to share the lead with Spain’s Alvaro Quiros, Chilean Felipe Aguilar, Welshman Jamie Donaldson, German Max Kieffer and Englishmen David Lynn and Graeme Storm.

“It’s great to be in the position where I can plan and choose my schedule for next year,” said Thornton, whose only ambition is to become consistent enough to retain his card when his exemption runs out next year.

“I’ve already decided where I’m playing until March or April, which is new for me because it’s always been Tour School and this, that and the other.

“While Thornton has no worries about his card having earned a one year exemption, he feels for those who are grinding on every shot this week.

“I wouldn’t say there’s no pressure but you can certainly see from the few guys that have been around, you can tell almost the ones that are on the mark from the ones that aren’t. Just by their mannerisms and things.

As opposed to my position now, I’m just playing a golf shot to a mark. As much as that’s what they’re also trying to do, it’s not as easy as that because they know the consequences if they don’t hit the mark. 

“When there’s nothing to play for, you tend to go at the shot a bit more comfortably.

Whereas from the first tee, the boys who are looking for their cards are squeezing them out from the first tee already. Potential trouble out there probably pops up a week bit more in their minds eye that it would do normally, especially if its aqua as opposed to grass.

Peter Lawrie. Picture: Eoin Clarke 

“What do you have to do? You have to stop yourself thinking about it, stop making it too complicated. Hit it at a tree in the distance. And do it. That’s where a good caddie comes in … decent guys on the bag can help a player clear the mind and make sure the shot they’re picking is the right one.”

Thornton did brlliantly all day, taking advantage of perfect morning conditions to card seven birdies, including a run of four in a row in a back nine of 31 shots that he polished off by sinking a 25 footer for birdie on the 18th.

Michael Hoey shot a three under 68 but was less than happy after dropping two strokes in his last three holes while Damien McGrane and defending chamion Shane Lowry are just inside the cut mark after one under 70s.

Shane Lowry. Picture: Eoin Clarke

“I just struggled all day on the greens, to be honest,” Lowry said. “I said to Dermot coming down the ninth, some days you come off the course shooting a good score not having played great and others you don’t shoot the score you deserve and that’s how it was today.

“I hit some golf shots that were top class. I played good enough to shoot anything really but only parring the three par fives is very disappointing really. That’s where you make your score on this course.

“No ifs and buts. I’m still not out of it. If I can shoot a decent score tomorrow, I can get myelf back into it and take it from there.”

Pointing to patience as the key, Lowry added: “I keep saying if I can make four or five in a row all of a sudden you’re back in the tournament. It’s hard to be patient but you have to be.

Ryder Cup skipper McGinley matched Higgins’s 72 despite that fact that his caddie was suffering from foogd poisoning and will be stood down to recover on Friday. 

Called away for a random drugs test afterwards, McGinley joked: “Drug-tested Ryder Cup captain … that’d be good if I fail, that’d be some story.”

On his round, he said: “I played well, didn’t score, different golf course in the afternoon, greens get crusty and cut up a little. Fresh greens in the morning try and see if I can do a score.”

Gareth Maybin didn’t make a birdie in a four over 75 but there were no problems for the leaders, especially Quiros, who was two over par early in his round before hitting eight birdies in his last 13 holes.

“The putting was beautiful today,” said Quiros, who recently moved to nearby Vilamoura. “That was maybe the key, because that’s the only difference between an average score and a good score, and that’s the only thing I’ve been missing.”

Quiros returned to action in the spring following wrist surgery, and recently has been showing signs of rediscovering his best form, particularly at the Open d’Italia LINDT, where he was tied eighth.

“This year has been a very tough year for me,” he added. “But I’m shooting better scores, and today was the typical example. I was two over after five holes, and I fought to come back. I’m happy to be here again.”

There is much to play for in the €2million Portugal Masters, as it is the penultimate tournament on the International Schedule before the inaugural Final Series – four lucrative events culminating in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, for which only the top 60 in The Race to Dubai qualify.

It is the second to last chance for those currently outside the top 110 to guarantee their playing rights for 2014, and former Ryder Cup player Soren Hansen (143rd) and Chile’s Mark Tullo (115th) did their hopes no harm by opening with a pair of 66s.

Round 1 scores

65 D Lynn (Eng) , A Quiros  (Esp) , G Storm  (Eng) , F Aguilar (Chi) , M Kieffer (Ger) , S Thornton (Irl) , J Donaldson (Wal) ,

66 M Siem  (Ger) , H Otto (RSA) , B Wiesberger  (Aut) , C Wood  (Eng) , M Tullo (Chi) , S Jamieson  (Sco) , A Sullivan (Eng) , S Hansen (Den) , J Quesne  (Fra) ,

67 V Dubuisson  (Fra) , R Fisher (Eng) , T Fleetwood  (Eng) , D Horsey (Eng) , C Doak (Sco) , P Waring  (Eng) , M Baldwin (Eng) , F Andersson Hed (Swe) , S Benson (Eng) , R Coles (Eng) , A Cañizares  (Esp) , J Lara (Esp) , E Pepperell (Eng) ,

68 A Wall (Eng) , N Colsaerts  (Bel) , M Kaymer (Ger) , M Hoey  (Nir) , M Manassero (Ita) , J Luiten (Ned) , F Molinari (Ita) ,

69 D Willett  (Eng) , G Fdez-Castaño  (Esp) , P Lawrie (Sco) , D Howell (Eng) , S Kjeldsen (Den) , A Hansen (Den) , P Larrazábal (Esp) , J Walters (RSA) , J Gonnet  (Fra) , R Bland (Eng) , A Hartø  (Den) , R Derksen (Ned) , E De La Riva  (Esp) , J Campillo (Esp) , J Van Zyl (RSA) ,

70 G Mulroy (RSA) , M Nixon (Eng) , D McGrane (Irl) , M Foster (Eng) , P Jun Sub (Kor) , J Edfors (Swe) , T Lewis (Eng) , A Noren  (Swe) , R Santos  (Por) , O Fisher  (Eng) , R Ramsay  (Sco) , G Havret  (Fra) , K Horne (RSA) , S Gallacher (Sco) , K Broberg (Swe) , S Lowry  (Irl) , S Dyson  (Eng) ,

71 T Aiken (RSA) , T Levet (Fra) , D Higgins (Irl) , C Paisley  (Eng) , S Webster (Eng) , R Wattel  (Fra) , R Jacquelin (Fra) , C Lee (Sco) , M Carlsson  (Swe) , B Stone (RSA) , D Drysdale (Sco) , M Jiménez (Esp) , S Wakefield (Eng) , R Green (Aus) , P McGinley (Irl) , M Madsen  (Den) , J Sjöholm (Swe) , R Rock (Eng) , R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) , L Slattery (Eng) ,

72 R Gonzalez (Arg) , A Kaleka  (Fra) , S Henry  (Sco) , A Dodt (Aus) , N Henriques  (Por) , M Delpodio  (Ita) , E Kofstad (Nor) , J Morrison  (Eng) , J Lima  (Por) , M Warren (Sco) , J Olazábal (Esp) , R Melo Gouveia (am) (Por) , J Carlota (am) (Por) ,

73 M Lafeber (Ned) , C Cévaër (Fra) , P Figueiredo  (Por) , G Lockerbie  (Eng) , A Tadini (Ita) , N Fasth (Swe) , L Gagli  (Ita) , T Jaidee (Tha) , S Chowrasia (Ind) ,

74 A Rosado  (Por) , P Whiteford (Sco) , T Björn (Den) ,

75 F Zanotti (Par) , E Grillo (Arg) , T Cruz  (Por) , B Åkesson (Swe) , P Price (Wal) , H Santos  (Por) , G Maybin (Nir) , M Wiegele  (Aut) , R Finch  (Eng) ,

77 P Lawrie (Irl) ,

78 I Garrido (Esp) ,

79 J Hansen  (Den) , D Van Der Walt (RSA).