Soccer star Stephen Grant battled a bad back to scorch to a sizzling course record 64 in the Radisson West of Ireland Championship at sun-splashed Rosses Point.
The former Sunderland and Shamrock Rovers striker blasted an eagle and five birdies in a seven under par effort to lead by two shots from Limerick's Patrick Sheehy.
Baltray's Simon Ward finished a shot further back after a 67 as defending champion Rory McIlroy got his bid for a title hat-trick off to a solid start with a two under par 69.
But Grant, 29, confessed that he will he happy just to make the cut as he battles with a crippling back injury.
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."
Grant took up he game less than six years ago but 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.
"In went through about five different coaches last year and kept turning up with my head in a mess. So I am much better now."
The Offaly ace, who plays regularly with Niall Quinn at the Heritage, got his round rolling when he hit a four iron to 10 feet to set up an eagle at the par-five fifth.
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.