Niall Kearney leads Colm Moriarty by two shots after the opening round of the event they were never meant to play — the £15,000 Titleist PGA Play-Offs in Turkey.
The 26-year-old Royal Dublin pro, making his debut in the end-of-season showdown after a change in the rules allowed three TP category players from the Irish Region of the Order of Merit to make the trip, holed his approach shot on the opening hole of the PGA Sultan course for an eagle and never looked back as he posted an opening 65.
He added five more birdies and dropped just one strokes to set the pace with a six-under-par effort as Moriarty also dropped just one shot in his 67 but made up for that mistake with five birdies.
The tournament, featuring the strongest assembled field in its ninth staging, will not only see the crowning of the PGAs No1, but will also determine three of the players in next year’s GB&I PGA Cup team and see 10 players secure a spot in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Kearney, who could achieve all three, was more than satisfied with his opening round, which was played in glorious sunshine and not a hint of wind.
“I was very consistent,” Kearney said. “The swing felt good as I was hitting all the greens and giving myself plenty of chances and managed to hole a few putts as well.
“I got off to a great start holing my second shot on the first. I then parred the second and birdied the third so I was three-under through three.”
He added: “It feels fantastic to be part of the tournament. I absolutely get the play-offs and what’s at stake here as you can qualify for things we dream of. It’s just great to be part of it.”
Moriarty, who finished second to Kearney in the Irish Region's Order of Merit, said: “I played lovely. It’s such a nice place to play golf and it’s a great course but you have to play well to score round here.
“It’s my first time and it’s great to be here. But having not played the play-offs before I don’t what the scoring is like to be in hunt but there’s a couple of decent knocks and if the conditions are this good you’re not going to get it any easier but you still have to play good golf.”
TP Category players do not usually count in the Irish Region's Order of Merit but Kearney, Moriarty and Derry's Michael McGeady occupied the top three spots this year and were controversially handed places in the field this week after the order came through from The Belfry
For a few days it appeared that PGA pros Michael McDermott (71), Damian Mooney (73) and Brendan McGovern (75) would be left at home but they too were also added to the field.
With Kearney, Moriarty and McGeady eligible to fight for places in the PGA Cup team and the BMW PGA at Wentworth via the PGA Play-offs this week, it appears logical that they should also get to tee it up in next year's Irish Open at Royal County Down as part of the traditional eight-strong Irish PGA contingent.
Whether that system remains in place next year remains to be seen. Given the annual debate on the make up of the field, it's possible that the European Tour may reduce the number of Irish Region professionals taking part or stage a Monday qualifier.
Titleist PGA Play-offs, PGA Sultan Course, Antalya, Turkey (Par 71)
65 Niall Kearney (Royal Dublin G.C.)
67 Colm Moriarty (Drive Golf Performance Limited)
68 Alex Belt (Bridlington Links Golf & Leisure), David Dixon (Enmore Park G.C.), Jason Levermore (Channels G.C.), Greig Hutcheon (Paul Lawrie Golf Centre)
69 Ian Walley (Kedleston Park G.C.), Richard O'Hanlon (St Kew G.C.)
70 Chris Gane (Lefthanded Golf at Silvermere), Darren Charlton (Dunstable Downs G.C)
71 Gareth Davies (Abbeydale G.C.), Benn Barham (PGolfCoaching), Michael McDermott (Pure Golf Leopardstown), Graham Fox (Clydeway Golf)
72 Matthew Cort (Rothley Park G.C.), Ian Ellis (Great Yarmouth & Caister GC), Richard Dinsdale (Parc G.C)
73 Damian Mooney (Nevada Bobs Belfast), Michael McGeady (Foyle Golf Centre), David Shacklady (Mossock Hall G.C.)
74 James Ablett (Lee-on-The-Solent G.C.), Michael Watson (Wessex Golf Centre), Andrew Willey (Bulwell Forest G.C.), Mark Hooper (The Rayleigh Club)
75 Brendan McGovern (Headfort G.C.), Greg McBain (Paul Lawrie Golf Centre), John Mellor (Oaks G.C.)
79 Christopher McDonnell (Troon Golf Management)