Niall Kearney opened with an eagle three and added a hat-trick of birdies around the turn before fading light stopped play in the Challenge Tour’s weather-delayed Barclays Kenya Open.
As Gary Murphy crashed to an eight over 79, the Dubliner finished his day on five under par with six holes of his opening round to complete this morning, leaving him just a stroke behind the clubhouse leader, 19-year old Chris Lloyd of England.
Lloyd had six birdies in a flawless, six under 65 at Muthaiga Golf Club on the outskirts of Nairobi to lead in the clubhouse before he was caught by South Africa’s Tyrone Mordt, who also has six holes to complete.
Kearney - one of 30 players who failed to complete their opening rounds - is tied for third with South African Michiel Bothma and Scotland’s Andrew Coltart of Scotland, who both shot 66.
The former Walker Cup player eagled the par-five 10th and then birdied the 17th, the 18th and the first before adding pars at the second and third before play was suspended due to lack of light following early morning showers.
Lloyd has already experienced his fair share of ups and downs in his fledgling career, having narrowly missed out on earning his card at last year’s Qualifying School Final Stage and then been forced to withdraw from the last Challenge Tour event in Colombia after suffering second degree burns on his shoulders.
But the two-time Junior Ryder Cup player now hopes that a season spent sharpening his competitive instincts on the Challenge Tour will lay the foundations for a long and prosperous career.
Lloyd said: “It was obviously really disappointing to miss out on my card at Qualifying School last year, but looking back it might’ve been a bit of a jump into the deep end. And it would’ve also been much harder to plan my Schedule, whereas out here my category will get me into pretty much every tournament, so it makes life much easier. It’ll be a great learning experience for me to play on the Challenge Tour this year, then if and hopefully when I get my card on the main Tour, I’ll be much better prepared for it.”
At the other end of the experience spectrum, Coltart first joined The European Tour in 1993, before making his first and only Ryder Cup appearance six years later.
By his own admission Coltart, who has two European Tour titles to his name, has struggled to reproduce his best form in recent years, but the Scot took encouragement from his round of 66.
He said: “I was delighted overall, because my short game was good whenever I missed the green, and my putting was good whenever I found the green. A little bit of tiredness crept in at the end, because it’s been a long day with the rain delay.
“It’s my first time to Kenya and I was expecting it to be an easy course, but that was by no means the case because it’s very tricky. The scoring today was fantastic as usual, which is testament to the strength of the Challenge Tour.”
Coltart’s round of 66 was matched late in the day by Bothma, who would have held the lead outright were it not for a double bogey on the 13th hole, where he mis-hit his tee shot into the water.
But the South African hit straight back with a birdie – one of seven – at the next hole, and was content with the state of his game.
He said: “I was between clubs on the 13th and ended up duffing my tee shot, but that happens. It obviously bothered me, but I knew there would be some birdie chances on the way in, and that’s how it worked out. I’ve been out here many times now and I like the course, so hopefully I can have a good week.”
Home hero Nicholas Rokoine is in a tie for fourth place on four under par alongside another Scotland’s Marc Warren, who won the Challenge Tour Rankings is 2005, and Englishman Tom Whitehouse.
Warren suffered a neck injury earlier in the week, but gave further credence to the phrase “beware the injured golfer” by notching four birdies in a flawless round of 67.
The two-time European Tour champion said: “I wasn’t 100 per cent, but the physio did a great job so there weren’t really any issues with the neck. I played very solid golf and hit 16 greens, which is the aim of the game out there.
“If I can do the same again tomorrow, I’ll be a happy man. It’s important not to get too aggressive, because I feel I’m hitting my mid-irons well enough, so I don’t have to be within wedge range to hit it close.”
Rokoine is attached to Muthaiga Golf Club, and he used his home advantage to stunning effect with a round of 67 which delighted the locals.
He said: “I know the course very well – I play here most days. This is the third time I’ve played this event, and I haven’t managed to make the cut yet but I’ve given myself a great chance after today’s round, so I’m going to try my level best tomorrow and hopefully play well at the weekend.
“My target is to play more often in Europe, so if I can do well here this week then that will obviously increase my chances and hopefully get me noticed.”
The highlight of Whitehouse’s day came at the par five tenth hole, where he reached the green in two and rolled in the eagle putt en route to a round of 67.
His compatriot Ben Barham, making his return to competitive action after undergoing life-saving surgery to remove his right kidney, was two strokes back on two under par.
The 35 year old from Kent said: “It’s going to take a while for me to get sharp and shake off the rust, but today was definitely a step in the right direction. I hit a decent drive down the first which settled me down, and hopefully now I can start working my way back to where I was.
“I had to dig in a few times when I found trouble, but overall I have to be very pleased with how it went. It’s not an easy course, especially with the wind swirling, so two under’s a pretty good effort on my comeback. I felt a little bit tired towards the end of my round, but hopefully the more I play, the better I’ll see out my rounds.”