Mark Staunton began the arduous Q-School climb with a brilliant 67 in ScotlandMark Staunton battled back from an early setback at the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School to make perfect start in his bid to earn his tour card.

The 30-year old from Ballinasloe opened with a five under par 67 to take a three-stroke lead in his Section A qualifier at The Roxburghe Hotel in Scotland.


Currently 10th in the PGA Irish Region’s PING Race to Mount Juliet Order of Merit, Staunton made a double bogey at the par-three fourth before playing the remaining holes in seven under par at a venue where the leading nine players and ties in the 35-man field will progress to Stage Two next month.

Birdies at the fifth and ninth helped him turn in level par before he followed a sweet eagle three at the 11th with birdies at the 14th, 16th and 17th.

He leads by three on five under from Scots Craig Matheson and Greg Nicolson with Belfast’s Damian Mooney the next best of the Irish in joint fourth after a level par 72.

Douglas’ Peter O’Keeffe, 31, was two under through five holes but eventually carded a one over 73 that left him just inside the top nine.

O’Keeffe’s close friend Mark Murphy, winner of Golf Channel’s Big Break Ireland reality TV contest, had to settle for a two over 74.

However the Waterville man was still reasonably happy with his start after going off first in high winds at the Kelso venue.

There were no Irish in action at the other Section A venue, Ebreichsdorf in Austria, where Panos Karantzias of Greece and Austria’s Jurgen Maurer hit seven under 65s to in the race to finish in the top 15 and ties there. {Scores}