Colm Moriarty crafted an immaculate five under par 65 to spearhead Ireland’s challenge in the first round of the marathon European Tour Qualifying School finals at PGA Golf de Catalunya.
The 30-year old midlander carded five birdies in a fine ball-striking effort on the easier Tour Course but amazingly still found himself sharing seventh place behind Julien Guerrier of France, who blasted 11 birdies in a sensational 10-under par 60 on the same track to top the leaderboard by four strokes.
“It is a nice start but there is a long way to go and a lot of golf to be played,” said Moriarty, who didn’t hole a putt longer than six feet. He also had a secret weapon in the shape of fellow professional and former South of Ireland Justin Kehoe on his bag.
Guerrier’s round was the lowest in the 33-year history of the Q-School but it was a generally positive day for the Irish with four of the six hopefuls inside the top 30 and ties who will earn tour cards after six rounds.
Former Royal Co Down assistant Simon Thornton and Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell both shot three under par 67s on the Tour Course to share 29th place with tour veteran Gary Murphy, who had an eagle, three birdies and two bogeys in an excellent three under 69 on the tougher Stadium Course.
Level for his round with eight to play, the 37 year old’s round was kickstarted by an eagle three at the 12th, where he hit a 228-yard four iron to 12 feet and he went on to dip below 70 with a birdie at the 17th.
“The eagle got me going and I played steady coming in,” said Murphy. “I missed three good chances out there but I am happy with a 69.”
St Margaret’s John Kelly ended the day tied 119th after a damaging, two over par 72 on the Tour Course and blamed poor decision-making for a run of four dropped shots in a three hole stretch from the 15th before repairing some of the damage with a closing birdie four.
But Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney was happier after he marked his professional debut with a level par 72 on the Stadium Course, holing a morale-boosting 25-footer for a par at his closing hole.
The former Walker Cup player finished the day tied for 83rd but with the 156-man field set to play two rounds on each course, he is well placed to make the 72-hole cut for the top 70 and ties.
69 (-3) Gary Murphy: 1 eagle, 3 birdies and 2 bogeys.
72 (E) Niall Kearney: 3 birdies and 3 bogeys.
"It was tough and I was up and down but there is no major damage done. I was one over on the back nine, my front nine but birdied the par five seventh and holed a 25 footer for a par at his final hole. It was nice to finish that way. The wind was hard to judge and there were a lot of tough holes. No major damage done and I am still thereabouts."
65 (-5) Colm Moriarty: 5 birdies.
"I played lovely and made one great save on the 13th (my fourth). I hit the ball around the hole all day and hit good putts but didn't hole anything more than a six footer. It is a nice start but there is a long way to go and a lot of golf to be played. It is the more scoreable of the two courses and the other course is more penal without a doubt. I wasn’t aware of the 60. That’s some round."
67 (-3) Simon Thornton: 4 birdies, 1 bogey
"I played well from the beginning and lost track on the back nine. Looking back I would have taken 67 going out."
67 (-3) Jonny Caldwell: 7 birdies; 2 double bogeys
“Apart from the two doubles, things were good. The course was playing fairly easy if you hit it straight. I just want to win my card back and give it another go next year. I will be better for what happened this year and I will learn from it.”
72 (+2) John Kelly: 3 birdies; 3 bogeys; 1 double bogey
"Not good but there is a long way to go. I played much better than 72 but made three really bad decisions coming in. I doubled the 15th by putting my second in the water (4 iron). It hit reeds and I missed the carry by a yard. I was through back of the green at 16, wrong club, and I hit the wrong club off the tee on the 17th. I took the driver and went through the fairway. It was a good birdie at the last but I have to make better decisions."
European Tour Qualifying School final, PGA Golf de Catalunya, Girona, Spain
Leading round one scores (GB&I unless stated)
Stadium Course, par 72
66 - J Sandelin (Swe)
67 - C Ford, J Kamte (RSA)
68 - A Tadini (Ita), A Kaleka (Fra), J Elson, S Khan, S Gallacher, G Coetzee (RSA), P Archer
69 - M Haastrup (Den), B Hebert (Fra), Gary Murphy, S Drummond, H Peter Bacher (Aut), M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra)
Other Irish score
72 - Niall Kearney
Tour Course, par 70
60 - J Guerrier (Fra)
64 - K Horne (RSA), J Ruth, L Jensen (Den), T Carolan (Aus)
65 - M Tunnicliff, C Carranza (Arg), Colm Moriarty, M Wiegele (Aut), M Vibe-Hastrup, L Slattery
66 - K Eriksson (Swe), F Andersson Hed (Swe), A Maestroni (Ita), N Meitinger (Ger), S Manley, E Dubois (Fra), R Kakko (Fin)
67 - Jonny Caldwell, Simon Thornton
72 - John Kelly