Drive Golf Performance's Colm Moriarty, Old Conna's Neil O'Briain and Massereene's Noel Murray topped the leaderboard at the HBE PGA Ulster Championship Pro-Am at the Hilton Templepatrick on Tuesday.
The trio fired five under par rounds of 67 at the Co Antrim venue to finish one shot ahead of Clontarf's Eamonn Brady.
Moriarty is back to defend the title he won in dominant style last year, finishing the event on nine under par, fully seven shots ahead of his nearest rivals.
However, the focus over the next two days will also be on the wider battle to top the PGA in Ireland Order of Merit which has developed into a shoot-out between Brady and Waterville's David Higgins.
The Clontarf professional currently leads the way by 589 points but, with 1,350 points on offer to the winner this week, he could yet be overtaken at the summit in this, the final qualifying event of the season.
Brady and his amateur team, representing O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors edged out O'Briain and his team representing Digney Grant on countback after both groups finished level on 91 points.
The 36-hole event gets underway on Wednesday morning with Ciaran Molloy (Blackwood GC) and Shaun Donnelly (Castle Hume) leading the way at 8.40am.
HBE PGA Ulster Championship Pro-Am, Hilton Templepatrick GC (Par 72)
T1 C Moriarty (Drive Golf Performance Ltd); N O'Briain (Old Conna GC); N Murray (Massereene GC) 67
4 E Brady (Clontarf GC) 68
5 L Hynes (Killiney GC) 70
T6 M Staunton (Delgany GC); C Molloy (Blackwood GC); B McGovern (Headfort GC) 71
T9 D Mooney (Ballyliffin); D Ryan (Cahir Park) lvl
HBE PGA Ulster Championship — Points on offer
Irish Open places
In 2015 six places were made available at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation. The number for 2016 has yet to be decided. The places are made available to the leading eligible players on the PGA in Ireland Order of Merit
PGA Play-offs Defending Champion – Niall Kearney
The leading three players – not already exempt – from the PGA in Ireland Order of Merit will be eligible to compete
The leading players from the 2015 PGA Play-Offs will be exempt into various European Tour and Challenge Tour events within the UK and Ireland in 2016. The exact number of exempt places at each tournament will be published as soon as they are available and are dependent on the tournaments being confirmed for 2016 by the European Tour. Opportunities will also be dependent on the detail set out in the European Tour General Member's Regulations which may not be available until after the PGA Play-Offs.
As a result of winning the Play-offs Kearney earned a place on the GB&I PGA Cup team going on to hole the winning putt in a historic victory over the US at CordeValle.
PGA in Ireland Order of Merit - Current standings
- Eamonn Brady 18,967.67
- David Higgins 18,378.17
- Colm Moriarty 17,523.90
- Neil O'Briain 16,261.83
- Damian Mooney 13,676.27