There were no ladies tees on view as Walker Cup hopeful Paul Cutler and Portmarnock’s James Fox fired three-under par 69s to grab a one-stroke lead after the first round of the East of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at fast-running Baltray.
Just two weeks after Shane Lowry blasted a sensational 62 and Graeme McDowell an incredible course record 61 in the Irish Open, the links gave little away as a stiff east breeze and firm conditions allowed just six players in the 156-man field to break par.
Early starter Fox had six birdies and three bogeys as he opened his bid to join his brother Noel, a three-time winner, as an East of Ireland champion.
But it was not until late in the afternoon that he was matched by 20-year old Portstewart international Cutler, who birdied the eighth and then holed a 100 yard lob wedge for an eagle two at the ninth before finishing with nine straight pars.
Belvoir Park interprovincial Andrew Morris, twice a beaten finalist in the “North”, fired a fine 70 to sit alone in second place while Baltray’s Nigel Beirth holed a four-iron for an ace at the 173-yard fifth as he carded a 71 that left him tied with former North and South of Ireland winner Darren Crowe and Mullingar’s Desmond Morgan on one-under.
Championship favourite Niall Kearney, winner of the Brabazon Trophy two weeks ago, was one-under par through 11 holes but dropped three shots in the last seven for a disappointing, two-over par 74 he described as a struggle.
Fox opened with a bogey at the 10th but birdied the 14th and then followed a three-putt bogey at the 17th with a birdie at the 18th to turn in level par 35.
A nine iron to eight feet at the first put him in red figures and while he three-putted from above the pin at the par-five second, he picked up a two-putt birdie at the third, chipped in for another at the short seventh and holed an eight footer for his sixth birdie of the day at the eighth to set the target.
"I caddied for Noel the last time he won so I know how to go about it but there is a long way to go," said Fox, whose brother claimed the title in 1996, 2000 and 2002. "The key is to keep it out of trouble and play the par threes well.
"You play 16 par threes over four rounds and if you can play them in level par you will be in with a chance."
Bidding to make this year's Walker Cup side to face the USA at Merion, Cutler bogeyed the second and fifth but birdied the par-five third and sixth before catching fire briefly.
At the eighth he hit a wedge to 15 feet and holed the putt before holing a 100-yard lob wedge for an eagle two at the ninth to get to three under par and then finished with nine straight pars.
East of Ireland Amateur Open, Co Louth (Par 72)
1st rd (May 30, SSS 74; CSS 74)
1 69 J Fox (Portmarnock), P Cutler (Portstewart)
3 70 A Morris (Belvoir Park)
4 71 D Morgan (Mullingar), N Beirth (Co. Louth), D Crowe (Dunmurry)
7 72 N Grant (Knock), J Hopkins (Skerries), D O'Donovan (Muskerry), L Lennox (Moyola Park), M Brett (Portmarnock), J Monaghan (The Island)
13 73 A McCormick (Scrabo), S Healy (Claremorris), G McGrane (The Royal Dublin), C Curley (Newlands), G Bohill (Co. Louth), S Crowe (Dunmurry), D Reilly (Westmanstown), D Carroll (Grange), G Kelly (Co. Louth), F Rafferty (Dungannon), R Leonard (Banbridge), C Drumm (Rosslare)
25 74 M McAlpin (Royal Portrush), S Prendergast (The Royal Dublin), K Egan (Curragh), S Power (West Waterford), C Doran (Banbridge), C Selfridge (Moyola Park), S Loftus (Lahinch), S Morrison (City of Derry), K Condren (Greystones), M Poucher (Limerick), S McConnell (Ballyclare), B Cashman (Belvoir Park), N Kearney (The Royal Dublin), E Arthurs (Forrest Little), R McConnell (Belvoir Park), K Canty (Douglas), C O'Malley (Westport), R McNamara (Headfort)
43 75 T O'Flynn (Fota Island), A Dunbar (Rathmore), H Diamond (Belvoir Park), N Goulding (Portmarnock), C Carvill (Belvoir Park), E McAnoy (Knock), K Bornemann (Douglas), C Hughes (Royal Portrush), A O'Callaghan (Douglas), D Coyne (Tuam), P Murray (Limerick), D Ruddy (Thurles), J Carvill (Warrenpoint), G Boyd (Donaghadee), R Cannon (Laytown & Bettystown), E O'Connor (Ballybunion)
59 76 R Whitson (Mourne), I Brennan (Greenore), S Barry (Lee Valley), K Stack (Dungarvan), D Lernihan (Castle), P Dunne (Greystones), B Walton (The Island), D Beattie (Whitehead), N O'Connor (Elm Park), D Coyle (Co. Louth), K McDonagh (Athlone), D Finn (Mallow), J Mulready (Castle)
72 77 N Gorey (Lee Valley), S Doherty (Malone), J Timony (Headfort), D Leathem (Lisburn), A Smith (The Island), C O'Connor (Athlone), L Costello (Hollystown), C Brown (Royal Portrush), T Fay (Rush), C Boggan (Co. Meath), G Carew (Edenderry), S Dwyer (Newlands), L Brady (The Royal Dublin), S Kelly (Lurgan), D Lally (Tuam), G McDermott (Co. Sligo), A Hogan (Newlands), R Durnin (Laytown & Bettystown), J Hughes (Douglas), G O'Flaherty (Cork)
92 78 A Duffy (Royal Tara), M Hammond (Moyola Park), M Ryan (Grange), M Sinclair (Knock), S Smyth (Co. Louth), B Daly (Edmondstown), K Crowley (Lee Valley), G McGee (Malone), G Dunne (Seapoint), D McInerney (Lahinch), P McGrath (Dromoland), D Sutton (Lurgan), R Bridges (Stackstown), C McAleavey (Banbridge), R White (Dundalk), M Durcan (Co. Sligo), J McGinn (Laytown & Bettystown), T O'Connor (Athlone)
110 79 G Lawlor (Newbridge), B Campbell (Malone), A Dowling (Hermitage), J Murray (Mourne), D Vaughan (Ardglass), G Hamill (Ardglass), D Hogan (Killeen), R McCarthy (The Island)
118 80 T McGowan (Strandhill), J Dillon (Headfort), R Weldon (Luttrellstown Castle), D McCusker (Moyola Park), P Duff (Laytown & Bettystown), E O'Sullivan (The Island), C Martin (Kilkenny), E Smith (Ardee), A McGrath (Greenore)
127 81 C Molloy (Ardee), J Turner (Royal Portrush), C Campbell (Warrenpoint), R McDowell (Royal Belfast), K Connolly (Portarlington), A Harty (West Waterford), J Owens (Bangor), C Bowe (Tramore), E Maguire (Seapoint), J McCarthy (Forrest Little)
137 82 D Clarke (Knightsbrook), C Abernethy (Dun Laoghaire), D Kelleher (Portmarnock), L Reilly (Galgorm Castle)
141 83 J Stevenson (Royal Portrush), D Simpson (Malone)
143 84 J Gourley (Holywood), S Barry (Laytown & Bettystown), A Brogan (Forrest Little), R Branigan (Co. Louth)
147 85 M Buggy (Castlecomer), A McCloy (Ballymena)
149 87 D Glynn (Galway)
150 93 R Astrand (Kristianstads)
151 97 A Kadic (Germany)
DQ T Flanagan (New Forest), S Webster (Castle), R Walsh (Kilkenny)
RT M Turley (Elm Park), E McCormack (Galway)
WD P Reavey (Warrenpoint)