David Higgins fired a five under par round of 67 to lead the HBE Ulster PGA Championship at Hilton Templepatrick on Wednesday.
The Waterville man leads Ballyliffin's Damian Mooney, Headfort's Brendan McGovern and Royal Tara's Cian Curley by one shot heading into Thurday's final 18 holes.
It was the perfect start for Higgins who is attempting to overtake Clontarf's Eamonn Brady in the race to finish top of the PGA in Ireland Order of Merit.
“That was the goal at the start of the year [to top the Order of Merit],” said Higgins after a round that included seven birdies and two bogeys.
“It's very important, that's why I came up here to play. I'm not playing particularly great but I am trying my hardest. I putted very well today, holed the important five and six footers.”
Brady has a 589 point lead over Higgins and knows that a top five finish will be good enough to keep him at the head of affairs regardless of how the Waterville man performs.
The Clontarf golfer opened with a three under par round of 69 and declared himself reasonably content after less than ideal preparations caused by a traffic delay on his way to the venue.
“It was good today, playing under a bit of pressure to put a decent score together, I'm happy with three under,” said Eamonn who finished his opening round strongly with three birdies in his closing five holes.
Defending champion, Colm Moriarty (Drive Golf Performance), fired a one over par 73.
HBE PGA Ulster Championship, Hilton Templepatrick (par 72)
1 David Higgins (Waterville GC) 67
T2 Cian Curley (Royal Tara GC); Damian Mooney (Ballyliffin); Brendan McGovern (Headfort GC) 68
T5 Michael McDermott (Pure Golf Leopardstown); Neil O'Briain (Old Conna GC); Eamonn Brady (Clontarf GC) 69
T8 Donal Gleeson (Old Conna GC); Mark Staunton (Degany GC) 70
T10 Graeme Dunlea (Monkstown GC); Daniel Beattie (Deer Park Hotel); Noel Murray (Massereene GC); David Ryan (Cahir Park GC) 71
HBE PGA ULSTER CHAMPIONSHIP — POINTS ON OFFER
IRISH OPEN PLACES
In 2015 six places were made available at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation. The number for 2016 has yet to be decided. The places are made available to the leading eligible players on the PGA in Ireland Order of Merit
PGA PLAY-OFFS DEFENDING CHAMPION – NIALL KEARNEY
The leading three players – not already exempt – from the PGA in Ireland Order of Merit will be eligible to compete
The leading players from the 2015 PGA Play-Offs will be exempt into various European Tour and Challenge Tour events within the UK and Ireland in 2016. The exact number of exempt places at each tournament will be published as soon as they are available and are dependent on the tournaments being confirmed for 2016 by the European Tour. Opportunities will also be dependent on the detail set out in the European Tour General Member's Regulations which may not be available until after the PGA Play-Offs.
As a result of winning the Play-offs Kearney earned a place on the GB&I PGA Cup team going on to hole the winning putt in a historic victory over the US at CordeValle.
PGA IN IRELAND ORDER OF MERIT - CURRENT STANDINGS
- Eamonn Brady 18,967.67
- David Higgins 18,378.17
- Colm Moriarty 17,523.90
- Neil O'Briain 16,261.83
- Damian Mooney 13,676.27