When Michael Hoey is in the mood, he’s a match for anyone. Just ask Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who lost the Dunhill Links title to the Belfast man not too long ago.
Now the father of a baby girl, Hoey is enjoying the atmosphere of the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre and after an opening, four under par 67 left him tied for sixth, a sixth European Tour title might just be on the cards.
“We’re privileged. You get your head down for the five hours and then switch off a little bit,” Hoey said. “We’re looking forward to the next few days.”
Clinical on the greens - he averaged 1.6 putts per green hit in regulation compared to 1.9 for Padraig Harrington (70) - Hoey has learned how to play one of the quirkiest courses on the European Tour, a venue still famous for the outlandish par Seve Ballesteros made from behind the wall of swimming pool, many years ago.
“It’s the sort of course you come off and you think you should shoot five under, but it’s tricky,” Hoey told European Tour Radio’s Nick Dye. “If you get on the wrong side of some of the greens you can have disasters.
“So it was solid. I am really happy. Felt like it could have been five [under]but it is probably the best start I ever had here.
“I’ve been here six years and you are trying to play away from pins sometimes, 30 feet is a good result. It is an exciting course - you can make birdies, eagles. But at the same time you can make double bogey from nowhere.
“So it is exciting. You can be miles away and win. Thomas Bjorn shot 10 under two years ago.”
As former champion Miguel Angel Jiménez marked his 25th appearance in the alpine event with an opening round of six under par 65 that left him two shots behind leader Anirban Lahiri of India, Ireland’s seven-strong posse had mixed days.
Hoey was the pick of the bunch with five birdies and just one dropped shot with Darren Clarke (69) the only other Irishman to break 70.
Gareth Maybin shot a one under 70 despite two bogeys in his last seven holes to end the day a shot inside the projected cut mark alongside the likes of world No 91 Harrington.
The Dubliner, bidding to move away from 60th in the Race to Dubai and closer to 50th than 100th in the world, birdie one par three, one par four and two par fives, dropping his shots at the par-four second and par-three 16th.
He had just 28 putts, many of them tap ins as he got up and down five times out of seven. He hit 11 greens in regulation but took 21 putts to get the ball in the hole on those occasions.
Simon Thornton (71) is tied 63rd on level par but Peter Lawrie again has to dig deep on a Friday after a 72 that will have done little to make him smile.
Damien McGrane, fresh from his card-saving sixth place finish in Wales last week, had just one par in his opening nine holes and still shot just one over.
After bogeys at the 10th and 11th, he double bogeyed the 13th, birdied the 14th and 15th, doubled the short 16th and then birdied the 17th and 18th to go out in 37.
he then came back in 36 with two birdies and two bogeys for a 73 that was only tied 111th.
Jiménez was crowned King of the Mountains in 2010 at Crans-sur-Sierre, and the 49 year old Spaniard is ideally placed for another challenge after seven birdies and just the single bogey in Switzerland.
He shares second place with former Ryder Cup player Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood, winner of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles a fortnight ago.
After ten top ten finishes in the event, including his victory three years ago, Crans veteran Jiménez is feeling confident about his chances this week.
“It is a very nice start,” he said. “I played very well today - I can play this course with my eyes closed!”
Lahiri played through the pain barrier to set the pace on eight under par 63, after suffering a twisted knee following a fall when running four weeks ago.
The 26 year old had two eagles in his first round, on the 14th and 18th holes after start on the tenth, and he could be forgiven a slight sense of déjà vu after also holding a share of the first round clubhouse lead last year, only to miss the cut when the weather turned on day two.
“It was a tough pill to swallow last year but I’ve learnt a lot from that,” he added. “The weather was so much colder and it was a big adjustment for me. It was a harsh lesson, but a lesson for life nevertheless.”
Complete first round scores from the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-sierre (par 71)
63 A Lahiri (Ind) ,
65 M Jiménez (Esp), T Fleetwood (Eng), P Casey (Eng) ,
66 T Björn (Den) ,
67 R Finch (Eng), J Olazábal (Esp), B Henson (USA), S Gallacher (Sco), M Hoey (Nir), P Junhasavasdikul (Tha) ,
68 T Levet (Fra), J Singh (Ind), B Rumford (Aus), G Bhullar (Ind), M Kieffer (Ger), G Havret (Fra), A Tadini (Ita), D Drysdale (Sco), V Dubuisson (Fra), J Van Zyl (RSA), M Tullo (Chi), E De La Riva (Esp), B Koepka (USA), T Jaidee (Tha), L Hao-Tong (Chn), P Lawrie (Sco) ,
69 J Moore (USA), R Karlberg (Swe), D Fichardt (RSA), K Horne (RSA), M Nixon (Eng), S Barr (Aus), A Cañizares (Esp), A Dodt (Aus), S Hansen (Den), S Dodd (Wal), D Clarke (Nir), R Sterne (RSA), D Willett (Eng), S Hend (Aus), M Fraser (Aus), R Coles (Eng), G Bourdy (Fra), F Molinari (Ita) ,
70 S Benson (Eng), E Grillo (Arg), J Luiten (Ned), C Cévaër (Fra), G Fdez-Castaño (Esp), D Howell (Eng), S Kjeldsen (Den), P Harrington (Irl), G Maybin (Nir), M Manassero (Ita), S Henry (Sco), S Kapur (Ind), M Warren (Sco), K Broberg (Swe), A Que (Phi), G Lockerbie (Eng), A Wall (Eng) ,
71 I Garrido (Esp), C Lee (Sco), R Fisher (Eng), S Thornton (Irl), K Aphibarnrat (Tha), J Campillo (Esp), J Lucquin (Fra), P Price (Wal), K Pratt (Aus), C Muniyappa (Ind), M Baldwin (Eng), A Hartø (Den), D Ulrich (Sui), C Paisley (Eng), C Nirat (Tha), A Quiros (Esp), T Wiratchant (Tha), B Åkesson (Swe), M Grönberg (Swe), T Lewis (Eng), A Levy (Fra), R Green (Aus), A Hansen (Den), S Dyson (Eng), K Benz (Sui), D Horsey (Eng) ,
72 P Whiteford (Sco), L Gagli (Ita), J Gonnet (Fra), R Santos (Por), H Otto (RSA), M Lafeber (Ned), M Rominger (Sui), F Zanotti (Par), J Quesne (Fra), W Ormsby (Aus), P Lawrie (Irl), S Wakefield (Eng), M Siddikur (Ban), M Delpodio (Ita), R Wattel (Fra), M Wiegele (Aut), M Ilonen (Fin), M Korhonen (Fin), M Foster (Eng), R Paratore (am) (Ita), E Amacher (am) (Sui), N Thommen (am) (Sui) ,
73 D McGrane (Irl), R Ramsay (Sco), A Kaleka (Fra), P Uihlein (USA), S Chowrasia (Ind), E Kofstad (Nor), P Waring (Eng), A Bossert (Sui), L Slattery (Eng), M Mamat (Sin), H Rai (Ind), J Edfors (Swe), P Larrazábal (Esp), D Lipsky (USA) ,
74 M Carlsson (Swe), J Kruger (RSA), J Lara (Esp), A Da Silva (Bra), T Aiken (RSA), F Aguilar (Chi), J Morrison (Eng), M Kobayashi (Jpn), R De Sousa (Sui), R Bland (Eng), J Walters (RSA) ,
75 E Pepperell (Eng), J Sjöholm (Swe), J Donaldson (Wal) ,
76 B Grace (RSA), D Singh (Ind), C Doak (Sco), M Fenasse (am) (Fra), B Rusch (am) (Sui) ,
77 J Parry (Eng), F Andersson Hed (Swe), R Gonzalez (Arg), R Derksen (Ned), O Fisher (Eng) ,
78 G Storm (Eng), A Vongvanij (Tha), Y Wo-Cheng (am) (Chn), J Granberg (Fin) ,
79 S Strüver (Ger) ,
80 D Gleeson (Aus), P Meesawat (Tha), F Svanberg (Sui) ,