Darren ClarkeDarren Clarke could only scratch his head at his poor finish. Picture: David Lloyd / www.golffile.ieRyder Cup skipper Paul McGinley led by example in the first European Tour qualifying event for his 2014 side but Darren Clarke could not have made a worse start.

The 2011 Open champion, who has his once regular caddie Billy Foster on his bag for the next fortnight, returned to action following his closing 80 in the US PGA and shot a seven over 78 in the Celtic Manor Wales Open.

Darren ClarkeDarren Clarke loses one right. Picture: David Lloyd / www.golffile.ieMcGinely shot a one under 70 to finish the day tied for 15th with Damien McGrane, six shots adrift of 26-year old Norwegian bomber and playing partner Espen Kofstad, who holed his bunker shot for a closing eagle at the 18th for a 64 and a two shot lead over Chris Wood and Richard Green.

Clarke took himself out of the Ryder Cup captaincy race in January to concentrate on his playing career with the 2014 Ryder Cup one of his goals. Now 335th in the world, the 45-year old’s chances look decidely slim right now. As McGinley expained after a day that began with him hitting the opening tee shot of the 2014 qualifying campaign, it’s crucial to qualify for the Race to Dubai finale and all next year’s majors if you are going to challenge for a place in his team.

“As I said yesterday, so much of the next few months for these guys is so important to use it as a steppingstone to get into the last Race to Dubai series,” McGinley said. “And from there, get into the majors next year, because that’s really where the massive points are in terms of Ryder Cup.”

Clarke is 121st in the Race to Dubai standings but he is qualified for all majors until the end of 2016, which at least gives him an outside chance of making the team again.

One over par in blustery afternoon conditions with five holes to go, Clarke’s week was wrecked on the finishing stretch.

Afer carving his tee shot into the wat at the 14th, he dropped on a forward tee and found water again, eventually holing a three footer for a triple bogey seven. A two putt birdie at the riveable 15th ease the pain but he then double bogyed both the 16th and 17th to finish the day tied for 136th alongside Simon Thornton, who also had a tough day at the office.

McGrane will be pleased to have made a sub-par start as he lies one place outside the top 110 in the Race to Dubai who will retain their cards. But it was a mixed day for the rest of the Irish players.

Gareth Mabyin’s level par 71 was a triumph considering he hit just six fairways but the other five Irish players are outside the cut mark.

Peter Lawrie, 97th in the Race to Dubai, did well to shoot a two over 73 having been four over through just six holes with birdies at his 15th and 16th repairing some of the damage.

David Higgins, seemingly destined to lose his card if he does not find a huge result in the coming week, had just two birdies in a three over 74.

Norway’s Espen Kofstad tees off under the watchful eye of playing partner and 2014 Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley. Picture ©Getty Images.Thornton, exempt next year thanks to his maiden win at St Omer in June, triple bogeyed the 12th and doubled the 13th for his 78.

As for McGinely, he was impressed by first round leader Kofstad, who had an eagle and seven birdies in his 64.

“He’s a massive hitter, good short game, and he played very well today,” McGinley said. |He deserved that score to be honest.

“He hit a lot of fairways. He hit it a million miles off the tee. He putted extremely well and deserved the score.

“When you hit it a million miles and straight, it makes the game very easy, I have to say. I saw it last week with Shane Lowry and now I’ve seen it today with Espen.”

The 26 year old, who finished as the number one player on the Challenge Tour last year to secure his European Tour card, carded a stunning back nine of 29 at The Celtic Manor Resort, which included three birdies and an eagle in the final four holes.

On the day Kofstad joined playing partners McGinley and John Parry in launching the points race for The 2014 Ryder Cup, he finished in a style worthy of such an occasion, holing out from the greenside bunker at 18 to the delight of the onlooking spectators.

“It was just inspiring to be here I think,” said Kofstad. “It’s Celtic Manor, the Ryder Cup has been here, and playing with Paul too.

“It would be great to play in the Ryder Cup, although I can’t really expect a spot, but I put in a decent application today!”

Celtic Manor Wales Open, Round One (Par 71)

64 E Kofstad (Nor),

66 C Wood  (Eng), R Green (Aus),

67 G Bourdy (Fra), T Van Der Walt (RSA), M Foster (Eng),

68 R Rock (Eng), E Grillo (Arg),

69 R Coles (Eng), M Kieffer (Ger), S Kjeldsen (Den), L Bond (Wal), M Ilonen  (Fin), P Uihlein  (USA),

70 G Havret  (Fra), P McGinley (Irl), D McGrane (Irl), G Fdez-Castaño  (Esp), A Tadini (Ita), S Wakefield (Eng), R Santos  (Por), R Jacquelin (Fra), C Cévaër (Fra), K Horne (RSA), D Drysdale (Sco), C Macaulay  (Sco),

71 R Fisher (Eng), J Olazábal (Esp), A Levy (Fra), J Campillo (Esp), T Jaidee (Tha), T Lewis (Eng), A Marshall (Eng), J Walters (RSA), A Hansen (Den), R Cabrera-Bello (Esp), A Dodt (Aus), A Kaleka  (Fra), P Erofejeff (Fin), J Parry (Eng), S Henry  (Sco), O Fisher  (Eng), E De La Riva  (Esp), R Wallis (Eng), M Jonzon (Swe), G Maybin (Nir), M Korhonen (Fin),

72 P Hedblom (Swe), S Hansen (Den), S Arnold  (Aus), B Koepka  (USA), K Broberg (Swe), B Rumford (Aus), T Björn (Den), R Karlberg  (Swe), G Storm  (Eng), F Aguilar (Chi), C Doak (Sco), J Edfors (Swe), M Carlsson  (Swe), A Hartø  (Den), S Kapur (Ind), P Waring  (Eng), S Gallacher (Sco), M Nixon (Eng), P Price (Wal), R Wattel  (Fra), S Chowrasia (Ind),

73 F Molinari (Ita), P Lawrie (Irl), T Fleetwood  (Eng), R McEvoy  (Eng), D Willett  (Eng), E Goya (Arg), R Enoch  (Wal), S Little (Eng), A Snobeck  (Fra), J Luiten (Ned), H Otto (RSA), M Campbell (Nzl), J Lara (Esp), J Quesne  (Fra), N Fasth (Swe),

74 S Webster (Eng), G Lockerbie  (Eng), I Garrido (Esp), M Baldwin (Eng), M Tullo (Chi), J Kruger (RSA), P Meesawat  (Tha), D Higgins (Irl), S Jamieson  (Sco), A Cañizares  (Esp), M Madsen  (Den), G Wright  (Wal), T Olesen (Den), P Larrazábal (Esp), B Wiesberger  (Aut), J Lagergren (Swe), C Paisley  (Eng),

75 F Zanotti (Par), M Southgate  (Eng), L Slattery (Eng), T Levet (Fra), V Dubuisson  (Fra), R Dinsdale (Wal), C Lloyd (Eng), F Andersson Hed (Swe), K Aphibarnrat (Tha), R Bland (Eng),

76 S Hend (Aus), R Gonzalez (Arg), S Dyson  (Eng), S Benson (Eng), P Whiteford (Sco), D Howell (Eng), M Lundberg (Swe), G Boyd  (Eng), L Gagli  (Ita), J Singh (Ind), B Åkesson (Swe), A Forsyth (Sco), S Strange (Aus), R James (am) (Wal),

77 O Floren  (Swe), J Morrison  (Eng), D Gaunt (Aus), L Jensen (Den), Z Lam (Sin), C Lee (Sco), M Warren (Sco), A Quiros  (Esp), M Delpodio  (Ita), E Pepperell (Eng), M Moseley (am) (Wal),

78 S Thornton (Irl), T Innes Ker (Sco), J Gonnet  (Fra), D Clarke (Nir), M Wiegele  (Aut), R Davies (Wal), M Jiménez (Esp), D Boote (am) (Wal),

79 A Sullivan (Eng), C Del Moral (Esp), D Fichardt (RSA), S Dodd (Wal),

80 R Finch  (Eng), S Khan (Eng), J Sjöholm (Swe), M Lampert (Ger),

81 D Brooks (Eng), G Orr (Sco),

84 S Bebb (Wal),

88 M Kobayashi (Jpn),

** M Lafeber (Ned)