In the midst of all the Tiger-led frenzy surrounding this year’s Masters you could be forgiven for thinking that there is only one golf tournament being played this week. Away from the media glare of Augusta however is this week’s rather low-key European Tour event, the Maderia Islands Open – BPI Portugal, where Simon Thornton is leading the Irish charge after day one. 

The former Royal County Down assistant claimed six birdies on his way to a four under par round of 68, a score that leaves him just two shots off the lead.

Thornton is making just his fourth European Tour start of the season but birdies at the third and ninth helped him to an outward nine of 35, with a dropped shot at the fourth the only front-nine blemish.

Four birdies followed on the way home, including back-to-back birdies at 15 and 16, and a bogey at the 13 wasn’t enough to spoil an impressive opening round.

That 68 leaves him two shots adrift of the four men who share the overnight lead. Englishmen Chris Gane and Ben Evans, home favourite Jose-Filipe Lima and Scotland’s George Murray all notched opening rounds of 66s to sit atop the leaderboard.

Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey is next best Irish player in the field at level par.

Portugal has been a happy-hunting ground for the Ulsterman in recent years. Twelve months ago he was sixth in this event before moving on to win the Estoril Open de Portugal a fortnight later, and he matched four birdies with four bogeys in his opening round and finds himself back in a tie for 55th.

Niall Kearney endured mixed fortunes and ended the day at two-over par, while Athlone’s Colm Moriarty opened with three bogeys and a birdie before reeling off 14 straight pars for a 74.

Gary Murphy is two shots further back after a round of 76 and he sits alongside Gareth Shaw, whose round wandered from the sublime to the ridiculous. The Lurgan man’s round included a double bogey, six bogeys, two birdies and an eagle.