Colm Moriarty produced two late birdies to keep his tour dream alive in the Challenge Tour’s Apulia San Domenico Grand Final in Italy.

The Glasson star, 31, needs to finish first or second at the final event of the season to move into the top 20 on the money list and earn a priceless European Tour card for 2011.

And he reckons he’s right on track after birdies at the 15th and 17th for a two under 69 left him tied for eighth place after the opening round at San Domenico Golf in Puglia.

Just three shots behind Sweden’s Peter Gustafsson, England’s Steven Tiley and Austria’s Bernd Wiesbeger, Moriarty said: “It was a solid start in breezy conditions on a tough, tricky course.

“All I can do is take it one round and one shot at a time. You can’t try to win the tournament with your first drive off the first tee.”

The Athlone ace hasn’t won for three years but he knows that he’s due after a solid year and reckons this could be his week.

Ranked 42nd on the money list, Moriary said: “I need a top two which is not a bad thing. Others guys might need a top 10 to finish in the top 20 in the rankings who get their tour cards, so I know it’s a top two or nothing.

“The game is good and I’ve only missed two cuts this year. But consistency is not what it’s about on the Challenge Tour. I just haven’t had that big week and that’s been a problem.”

If he fails to make it this week, Moriarty will have a second bite of the cherry at the Qualifying School Final stage in December.

“Hopefully this will be my week because I am playing nicely.”

The European Tour’s Paul Symes reports:

With three rounds of the €300,000 event remaining much can still change, but if Gustafsson continues his fine form he stands every chance of jumping from his current Ranking position of 35th and into the all-important top 20.    

Gustafsson, who holed his bunker shot for a birdie on the fourth hole, said: “This week I haven’t really got anything to lose – the guys just inside the top 20, like I was last year, have got everything to lose. That’s the way it is. But we all have to remember that we’re very fortunate to do what we do so it’s important to enjoy this week as much as you can, though obviously that’s not always possible! I haven’t always enjoyed it in the past, but I only had myself to blame really. If I’d played a bit better, I would’ve secured my card. But everything happens for a reason. It wasn’t the best two days of my life when I missed out by one, but people have had far worse days than me.”

Like Gustafsson, Tiley has also adopted a relaxed approach as he seeks the top three finish which would in all probability see him climb the necessary six places from his current Ranking position of 26th.    

The 28 year old, whose previous claims to fame were his victory in last year’s Egyptian Open and an opening round of 66 at this year’s Open Championship, felt right at home on the 7,031 yards, par 71 links layout, which was designed by European Golf Design, having grown up playing similar courses at home in his native Kent.

Tiley, whose tap-in birdie at the last was one of five gains, said: “When my caddie got here he texted me to say it’s just like Deal, which I play on back home in Kent. I didn’t believe him, but it is very similar in many ways – especially the holes next to the seas. So you have to hit similar shots, and play the course in a similar way. The only real difference is that there’s sunshine here in October, which you wouldn’t get back at home!”     

Whilst Tiley and Gustafsson strive to climb into the top 20 of the Rankings, Wiesberger can afford to relax, safe in the knowledge that a return to The European Tour has long since been sewn up after two victories in France this season.

The big-hitting Austrian’s win in Toulouse was secured in windy conditions not dissimilar to those found at San Domenico Golf, on the Adriatic Coast, where he has a decent record having finished in the top 15 on his only previous appearance in 2007.

Wiesberger said: “I can relax and enjoy it a little bit more than some of the guys here this week. I also started with a 66 when I was last here two years ago and wasn’t able to see it through, but hopefully I can build on it this year and maybe win the tournament. It would be a great finish to the season, and might mean I win the Rankings. But I don’t expect Alvaro [Velasco] to have a bad week so it’s not something I’m really thinking about.”

Rankings leader Velasco endured an indifferent day, with two bogeys and a double at the 16th hole blighting his one over par round of 72. But his compatriot Carlos de Moral endured better fortunes after signing for a flawless round of 67 which saw him take a share of fourth place alongside Australian Daniel Gaunt. The duo have each won once on the Challenge Tour this season and both are currently inside the top 20, with English Challenge champion Gaunt in 12th, seven places higher than Del Moral.

American Christopher Ryan Baker and Sweden’s Pelle Edberg share sixth place on three under par after both men posted four birdies and a solitary bogey in their respective rounds of 68.