By Brian Keogh
Former Shamrock Rover and Sunderland striker Stephen Grant left teen star Rory McIlroy in the shade with a sizzling course record 64 in the first round of the Radisson SAS sponsored West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point.
The 29 year old, who only took up the game six years ago, fired an eagle and five birdies in an immaculate seven under par effort to lead by two strokes from Limerick's Patrick Sheehy.
While Sheey had six birdies and just one bogey in a superb 66, Grant put a painful back injury to the back of his mind to shave a shot off the course record set by Sweden's Rikard Karlberg just two years ago.
Baltray's Simon Ward finished a shot further back after a 67 as defending champion McIlroy began his bid for a hat-trick of title with a two under par 69 on a day of brilliant sunshine and light breezes.
Playing with heat pads taped to his lower back, Grant said: "I was bogey free and that is what I was delighted about. But it's been a nightmare with my back for three months now. I pulled my pelvis out when I played on a mini tour in Arizona earlier this year and I have to go in for an MRI scan next week.
"It bothers me all across the lower part of my back and I am pretty worried about what it is but hopefully I will be okay. I was never really injured playing football."
Playing off plus two, Grant is certain to see his handicap plummet to plus three this week but he is not getting carried with thoughts of winning the prestigious matchplay title.
He said: "This is all a learning curve for me. I was tricking around with my swing in the championships last year and it was ruining me really.
"Since the season finished I started doing really well and progressing in my game and I feel like I am getting where I want to be."
Birdies at the sixth, ninth, 11th and 12th put him six under and while he missed chances at the next three holes, he saved par at from six feet at the 17th and birdied the last from 10 feet to shave a shot off the previous course record.
McIlroy was disappointed with his putting, especially on the back nine, but will have no problem making the top 64 qualifiers tonight as he finished the day in a share of eighth place.
"I played okay on the front but terribly on the back," McIlroy said. "The greens were really bumpy and I didn't hole anything on the back nine. I was four under after ten, had chances on 11, 12 and 13 and missed them all and then I bogeyed the 14th."
He also bogeyed the eighth and 17th but saved a brilliant par at the last with a deft lag putt over a hump, just seconds after duffing a cut up wedge from the left rough.
Radisson-SAS West of Ireland Championship, Rosses Point
Strokeplay qualifying (36 holes)
64 S Grant (Birr)
66 P Sheehy (Limerick)
67 S Ward (Co Louth)
68 A Johnston (UK), P Muray (Limerick), R Leonard (Banbridge), S Lowry (UCD/Esker Hills)
69 N Grant (Knock), P McGrath (Dromoland), A Hogan (Newlands), R McIlroy (Holywood), R McNamara (Headfort)
70 B Cashman (Belvoir Park), G Hall (Edenderry), D Coyle (Co Louth), N Kearney (Royal Dublin), R Boal (Scrabo), W McCully (Donaghadee), A McCloy (Ballymena)
71 D Downie (Sutton), T McGowan (Strandhill), B Reddan (Co Louth), C O'Connor (UCD/Athlone), D Scully (Galway), R Kilpatrick (Banbridge), G McDermott (Co Sligo), D Vaughan (Ardglass), D Kelleher (Portmarnock), L Lennox
72 G O'Connor (Malahide), D McNeill (Ballybofey & Stranorlar), G O'Flaherty (Cork), J Lyons (Birr), S Courtney (UK), D Leathern (Lisburn), P Errity (Delgany), J Hurst (UK), R McCarthy (The Island), K McCarthy (Kinsale), H Diamond (Holywood), S Doherty (Malone), A Dowling (Hermitage)
73 R McGee (Spain), D Morgan (Mullingar), R Durnin (Laytown and Bettystown), D Crowe (Dunmurry), D Lally (Tuam), M Rowe (Glasson), K O'Neill (Strandhill), D Finn (Mallow), K Condren (Greystones), A Wilson (Cairndhu), C Curley (Newlands), S Crowe (Dunmurry), D Lenihan (UCD/Castle), A Condren (Greystones)
74 D Boyle (Cruit Island), M Hammond (Moyola Park), P Cutler (Portstewart), J Toner (Woodbrook), G Carew (Edenderry), S Loftus (Ennis), E Saxel (UK), P Higgins (Mullingar), J Waldron (Muskerry), J McGinn (Laytown & Bettystown), A Dunbar (Rathmore), A McCormick (Scrabo), B Galway (Cairndhu), C Cannon (UK), S Paul (Tandragee), P Connolly (Clontarf), S Healy (Claremorris), G Boyd (Donaghadee)
75 T Walsh (Claremorris), C Doran (Banbridge), R Brannigan (Co Louth), D Sutton (UK), D McNamara (Connemara), G Hammill (Ardglass), D Coyne (Tuam), J McIntyre (City of Derry), P Walton (UCD/The Island), M Crowe (Elm Park), T Bruden (UK), JP Hughes (Douglas), R Maher (Nenagh), N Gorey (Lee Valley), C Hughes (Royal Portrush), P Graham (Galgorm Castle), J Gannon (Seapoint), J Moore (Laytown & Bettystown), M Poucher (Limerick), R Williams (Baltinglass), S Miskelly (Knock), T McClements (Holywood), D McInerney (Lahinch)
76 P Killeen (Claremorris), N Lavin (Royal Dublin), M Sinclair (Knock), E O'Sullivan (The Island), E McCormick (Galway), E Kennedy (Strabane), M Lavelle (K Club)
77 D O'Brien (Laytown & Bettystown), D Ruddy (Thurles), D Cantrell (Woodbrook), D Kneafsey (UK), G Nugent (Kilkenny), K Kennedy (Co Tipperary), J Timoney (Headfort), J Mulready (Castle), M Kemmy (Limerick), L Butler (West Waterford)
78 I Keane (Malahide), G Managh (Knock), M O'Connor (Elm Park), R Cannon (Laytown & Bettystown), E Arthurs (Forrest Little), M McGinley (Grange), A Meharg (Scrabo), M Horan (Birr), D Carroll (Grange), J Turner (Royal Portrush), M Thistleton (UK) 78
79 D Hogan (Killeen), M Buggy (Castlecomer), J Patterson (Knock), A Dooley (Glasson/NUIG)
80 G Mallon (North West), D King (Tramore), JJ Coey (Clandeboye), J McNicholas (Ballyhaunis), D Brannigan (Seapoint)
81 A Wynne (Strandhill), T Cleary (East Clare)
82 E McAnoy (Knock), P O'Kane (Curragh)
83 B Christie (Skerries), M King (Athenry), C Martin (Kilkenny)