Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney faces an uphill task to make the cut at the Kenya Open after an opening round of 74 left him nine shots adrift of overnight leader Jake Roos, whose six-under par 65 was good enough for a one shot lead.
Kearney, on his first Challenge Tour start, didn’t make a single birdie on a frustrating day and dropped shots at the first, 12th and 14th meant that the 2009 Walker Cup star could sign for no better than a three-over par round and a place just inside the top 100.
Heavy overnight rain in Nairobi meant the Muthaiga Golf Club played every inch of its 7,213 yards, but South African Roos was still able to claim seven birdies on his way to the first round lead.
The undoubted highlight of the 29 year old’s round was a holed bunker shot at the 14th. He said: “I played perfectly. I’d short-sided myself and hardly had any green to work with, so to get it close would’ve been an achievement in itself – but to hole it was pretty special.”
Roos, a Challenge Tour debutant, has two wins under his belt on his native Sunshine Tour and claimed a tie for 18th place in the Africa Open on the main tour earlier this season, but he almost decided against making the trip to Kenya this week.
“I only recently decided to play here this week, because we haven’t got a tournament on the Sunshine Tour for a few weeks.
“Instead of sitting around doing nothing at home, I thought I’d come over to Kenya – and it’s looking like a good decision at the moment.” he said.
The South African holds a one shot advantage Andreas Högberg of Sweden, with Scotland’s Callum Macaulay a further shot back.
Macaulay played on the full European Tour last year but has dropped back into the Challenge Tour ranks after failing to do enough to regain his privileges this year, but he doesn’t see that as a step down.
The Scot said: “I’ll be concentrating mainly on the Challenge Tour for the rest of the season. As great as the experience of playing on the European Tour was last year, I still feel I’m learning my trade – and the Challenge Tour is a great place to do that.
“Towards the end of the season, when I was trying desperately to keep my card, I changed my mindset. Instead of trying to win the tournament I was concentrating mainly on just making the cut, and that probably cost me.
“I’m now thinking about winning tournaments again, and hopefully I can carry that through the rest of the season. If and when I get back onto the main Tour, I should be a better player – and a wiser one.”
Kearney’s quest to make the weekend continues on Friday morning at 4.30am Irish time.