Just eight of the 22 Irish hopefuls were inside the cut mark after the opening round but there was much to celebrate as Jonny Caldwell headed the home charge in Northern Ireland Open Challenge with a super six in under 65.
A foursomes partner for Rory McIlroy in the Walker Cup at Royal County Down nearly seven years ago, it's been a tough road for the Clandeboye man since then.
But he weas outstanding on a challenging opening day at Galgorm Castle, carding an eagle and six birdies to end the day tied for third, just three shots behind Swede Joakim Lagergren, who shot a course record, nine under 62.
Tournament ambassador Michael Hoey confessed that he lost concentration after a 47-minute weather delay but did well in the end to eagle the 18th for a level par 71.
On a day when Ballymena amateur Dermot McElroy once again showed his potential with a four under 67 that was matched by Gareth Shaw, Hoey started with back to back birdies before losing those shots with a double-bogey at the third.
A birdie at the eighth was followed by an eagle at the ninth but he lost his momentum as a 47 minute delay halted his progress before dropping four shots in the five holes after the resumption.
Another bogey at the 16th left him two over heading down the last but two superb shots and a putt handed him a lifeline with an eagle three and he is now hoping to push on at the weekend and give the crowds something to shout about.
“It was a disaster after the turn, just lost my concentration basically,” said the 35 year old, who missed the cut at the Ballymena venue last year.
“I was in a good bit of rhythm before it and just lost my concentration. I was fighting towards the end and at least I've given myself a chance to get into a position tomorrow.
“I was looking at missing the cut but I played the last well, got a nice little bounce in, I didn’t get too many breaks today but got a nice kick there to put it close and an eagle gives me a chance now.
“I haven’t been too sharp, the wind was strong and I was trying to hit come soft shots in and I just hit them too hard over the back, misjudgements really. There were some good swings and I felt the putter was good on the front nine so I just have to keep at it tomorrow.
“It was miserable at times for the crowd out there, we were all making bogeys so it wasn’t a great atmosphere. But I started birdie-birdie which was good and then had a good crowd on the ninth for the eagle so I pleased a few people there. Hopefully I’ll get lucky with the weather in the morning."
Niall Kearney continued his good run of form with a 68 as Alan Dunbar and Irish Amateur Close champion John-Ross Galbraith shot one under 70s.
Michael McGeady matched Hoey with a level par round but it was a tough day for Ruaidhri McGee who withdrew with illness after just five holes.
The Derry man has been feeling under the weather since he got back from the Czech Republic but simply could go one after dropping four shots in his first five holes.
As for the other amateurs in the field. Ardglass' Cormac Sharvin, Ben Robinson and Dundalk's Aaron Grant shot a one over 72s with Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell posting a 77.
Leader Lagergren got off to an explosive start, soaring to a course-record nine under par 62 to take a two-shot lead.
The 22 year old, who has already played two full seasons on The European Tour in his short professional career, threatened the magic number of 59 when he negotiated his opening 15 holes in eight under par with a par five to play on the par 71 lay-out.
He did birdie the ninth, his last hole having teed off at the tenth, and while he could not create history as the second player to shoot sub-60 on the Challenge Tour, his bogey-free opening round was enough to set a new record low round at the wonderfully-presented Galgorm Castle.
On a day when 4,429 people filed through the gates at what has become the best-attended event in Challenge Tour history, the crowds were treated to a mixed bag weather-wise, the course bathing in sunshine for the vast majority of the day but a heavy shower causing a 47-minute delay in play mid-way through the afternoon.
Lagergren was lucky enough to avoid that inconvenience and he was delighted to get off to such a strong start in perfect conditions, playing alongside local crowd favourite, promising amateur McElroy.
Northern Ireland Open Challenge in association with Maui Jim Sunglasses
62 J Lagergren (Swe) ,
64 A Snobeck (Fra) ,
65 S Brown (Eng) , J Caldwell (Nir) ,
66 R McGowan (Eng) , M Orrin (Eng) , D Kemmer (USA) ,
67 W Booth (Sco) , T Sluiter (Ned) , T Linard (Fra) , R McEvoy (Eng) , K Benz (Sui) , G Shaw (Nir) , C Russo (Fra) , D McElroy (am) (Nir) ,
68 B Ritthammer (Ger) , C Shinkwin (Eng) , R Davies (Wal) , J Lando Casanova (Fra) , J Edfors (Swe) , T Lee (USA) , N Kearney (Irl) , C McDonnell (Eng) , C Hanson (Eng) , A Björk (Swe) , J Maw (Eng) , R Kind (Ned) , P Figueiredo (Por) , L Goddard (Eng) , K Ferrie (Eng) , G Cambis (Fra) , A Bernadet (Fra) , J Sjöholm (Swe) ,
69 P Maddy (Eng) , B Stone (RSA) , A McArthur (Sco) , G Boyd (Eng) , J Harrison (Eng) , M Glauert (Ger) , C Aguilar (Esp) , M Delpodio (Ita) , N Quintarelli (Ita) , P Dwyer (Eng) , J Winther (Den) , G Murray (Sco) ,
70 A Wrigley (Eng) , J Garcia Del Moral (Esp) , C Ford (Eng) , D Stewart (Sco) , S Little (Eng) , E Johansen (Nor) , M Decottignies-Lafon (Fra) , S Arnold (Aus) , J Huldahl (Den) , A Dunbar (Nir) , J Galbraith (am) (Nir) ,
71 B Åkesson (Swe) , M McGeady (Irl) , F Praegant (Aut) , M Ford (Eng) , R Russell (Sco) , M Tullo (Chi) , M Haines (Eng) , R Gowers (Eng) , E Espana (Fra) , M Trappel (Aut) , M Hoey (Nir) ,
72 M Wiegele (Aut) , C Kelly (Sco) , S Hutsby (Eng) , P Gal (Cze) , J Gonnet (Fra) , J Fahrbring (Swe) , F Fritsch (Ger) , A Savolainen (Fin) , D Mooney (Nir) , M Murphy (Irl) , D Gavins (Eng) , C Shave (Eng) , D Frittelli (RSA) , L Jensen (Den) , J Senior (Eng) , S Henry (Sco) , J Stalter (Fra) , M Lafeber (Ned) , P McKechnie (Sco) , C Paisley (Eng) , H Bacher (Aut) , B Robinson (am) (Eng) , C Sharvin (am) (Nir) , A Grant (am) (Irl) ,
73 H Joannes (Bel) , T Pilkadaris (Aus) , J Elson (Eng) , O Wilson (Eng) , S Hansen (Nor) , J Pastor (Esp) , C Mivis (Bel) , S Tiley (Eng) , S Whiffin (Eng) , L Saltman (Sco) , J Garcia Pinto (Esp) , P Price (Wal) , J Rask (Swe) , N Johansson (Swe) ,
74 J Guerrier (Fra) , P Edberg (Swe) , L Nemecz (Aut) , M McAlpin (Nir) , O Ramsnes (Nor) , R Steiner (Aut) , T Murray (Eng) , S Grant (Irl) , B Parker (Eng) , C Bouniol (Fra) , D Coupland (Eng) , B Virto (Esp) , J Timmis (Eng) , J Roos (RSA) , G Woolgar (Eng) ,
75 R Gouveia (Por) , C McNamara (Irl) , C Brazillier (Fra) , B Hebert (Fra) , A Domingo (Esp) , A Perrino (Ita) , Z Scotland (Eng) , A Gabella (Sui) , G King (Eng) , O Farr (Wal) , L Kennedy (Eng) , J Legarrea (Esp) ,
76 D Law (Sco) , O Evans (Eng) , O Stark (Swe) , R Whitson (Nir) , G Lockerbie (Eng) , N McCarthy (Eng) , N Lemke (Swe) ,
77 T Innes Ker (Sco) , J Wilson (Aus) , C Macaulay (Sco) , N Murray (Nir) , R Coles (Eng) , A Hogan (Irl) , B McCarroll (Irl) , C Campbell (am) (Nir) ,
78 S Ward (Irl) , D Geminiani (Ita) , P Widegren (Swe) , B Evans (Eng) ,
79 M Smith (Eng) , J Quinlivan (Irl) ,
81 J Kennegard (Swe) ,
WD/RET M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) , R McGee (Irl)