Colm Moriarty was inspired by the sensational Killarney atmosphere to open with a super 67 and leave Ireland’s quartet of major champions in the shade.
The Challenge Tour regular from Athlone only learned he was in the event 10 days ago thanks to a sponsor’s invitation.
But after three birdies in his last four holes gave left him sitting pretty on four under, he sees no reason why he can’t contend.
Playing just ahead of US Open champion Rory McIlroy, Moriarty said: “We’d an early start but by the ninth the crowds were huge. It’s going to be manic at the weekend.”
At 32, Moriarty is keen to get off the Challenge Tour and a big week could help him earn his card after eight years as a pro.
Joint second after the opening round at Carton House in 2005, he said: “I enjoy playing in these big events with the big crowds. I feel comfortable out there, but the challenge for me is to get out here week in and week out. It is where I want to be.
“I’ll just go out there with no expectations again tomorrow but if I play the way I have for the next three days there is no reason why it won’t go well.”
Ireland’s four amateur stars outshone our four major winners by a shot in the first round in Kerry.
If the Irish Open was a team event, amateur stars Paul Cutler (69), Alan Dunbar (70), Kevin Phelan (72) and Dermot McElroy (72) totalled one under par as Open champion Darren Clarke shot 69, US Open champion Rory McIlroy 70, former US Open winner Graeme McDowell a 72 and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington carded a 73.
Portstewart amateur Cutler, the reigning Irish Close and West of Ireland champion, opened with an eagle two at the 404 yard first when he holed a pitching wedge from 133 yards.
“I was happy enough, I would have taken that score today on the first tee, Cutler said. D”rive down the left, nice wedge – didn’t see it going in, but heard the roars. It was a dream start but my cadie was good, got me settled down straight away.
“It’s different to amateur events, massive crowds – just try and play your normal game. It’s difficult, you’re looking around a bit more and hearing things.
Considered a certainty to play in the Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen in September, Cutler added: “There will be big crowds at the Walker Cup so you have to deal with that, I’m looking forward to it hopefully getting that chance.
“I want to get four days here, that’s the aim. I hit a few loose shots but recovered well, pitched and putted well. The first priority is to make it through to the last two days.
“I’ve played a lot of golf - body is not too bad, but there’s a tough two weeks ahead, playing European amateurs and Home Internationals. But I feel great at the minute.”
Hoey - “This is my major”
Forgotten Ulsterman Michael Hoey bounced back from disaster in Sweden with a super 69 and insisted: “This is my major.”
The Belfast ace, 32, had two birdies and 16 pars in a solid effort just a week after taking 83 in the first round of last week’s Nordea Masters with an ELEVEN at the 18th.
Winner of his second tour title in Madeira in May, Hoey’s feats on tour have been overshadowed by three major wins by Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke in just 13 months.
Asked if he felt left out, he said: “This would be my major and I would rank this as a major if I played well for the next few days.”
Hoey won an amateur major when he won the 2001 British Amateur title but after playing in the Masters and the Open as a reward for that win, he’s yet to make another major appearance.
Believing his lack of consistency is the problem, he said: “In the past I have misunderstood my technique but now I understand it and hopefully I can be more consistent.
“No bogeys like today is what I am going for - eliminating those doubles and triples.”
Simon does was Neil says
Simon Thornton scorched into the mixed with a late-late 68 thanks to mental tips from Shane Lowry’s swing coach.
The Newcastle pro, 34, Thornton lost his card last year and only got into the event thanks to a sponsor’s invitation.
But he fired four birdies and just one bogey to share 16th place on three under and paid tribute to GUI National Coach Neil Manchip.
Thornton said: “I use Neil as a psychologist and not for any swing coaching and I had a great chat with him yesterday.
“I was getting to the point where I was too relaxed and not caring if the ball went straight and he just told me, ‘You’re lucky to be here and play golf for a living.’
“He said to take advantage of it and enjoy it because I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I was just going through the motions.
“So I focussed on narrowing down my targets and it seemed to work today. Hopefully it will work tomorrow too.”