Rosapenna’s Ruaidhri McGee got his bid for a European Tour card off to a sensational start on what was a good day for Paul Dunne, Damien McGrane and Simon Thornton in the opening round of the Qualifying School Final Stage in Catalonia.
The 24-year old Derry native made seven birdies in a six under 64 on the easier Tour Course, dropping just one shot to finish the day tied for fourth with the top 25 and its after six rounds awarded full European Tour cards at PGA Catalunya Resort near Girona.
As usual at Q-School, almost all the good scoring was done on the par-70 Tour Course, the shorter of the two layouts, with Australia’s Nick Cullen posting a 61 to lead by two strokes from South Africa’s Michael G. Palmer and Spain’s Pep Angles on nine under par
McGee is in a five-way tied for fourth with the likes of Swedish amateur Marcus Kinhult, who shot an outstanding 66 on the difficult Stadium Course as Mount Juliet’s Kevin Phelan had to settle for a level par 70 on the Tour Course that left him tied 68th.
The other five Irish hopefuls played at the testing, par-72 Stadium Course and it was a positive day for Dunne, McGrane and Thornton as they carded one under 71s to share 52nd place.
Open Championship hero Dunne, 22, was two over through the turn as he mixed three bogeys with one birdie. But he played well on the back nine with birdies at the 13th, 15th and 17th undoing the front nine mistakes.
Thornton also recovered well with two closing birdies at the eighth and ninth putting him in the red as McGrane played steadily all day and was left to rue a closing bogey.
It was a tougher day at the office for former Spanish Open winner Peter Lawrie and Headfort’s Brian Casey as the shot 76s on the Stadium Course and share 138th on four over.
Only the leading 70 players and ties after four rounds — two on each course — qualify for the last two rounds over the Stadium Course.
Cullen set the benchmark with nine under par 61 on the Tour Course to lead the field by two shots.
The Australian was immaculate throughout, with four birdies on the way out and five more coming back as his bogey-free start put him ahead of Spain’s PAngles and South African Michael Palmer at the top of the leaderboard.
Cullen has previously plied his trade on the Australasian Tour for the last five seasons, winning the Australian Masters last year, but the 31 year old now has his sights set on a spot in the 2016 Race to Dubai.
“That’s as good a start as I’ve ever made to a tournament so I’m very happy with it, but it’s such a long week and there’s a lot of golf ahead of us,” he said.
“As much as this week is about trying to finish in that top 25, I think you still need to keep that mindset of trying to win it and then if you don’t then hopefully you’re still up there.
“I played solid today, hit a lot of good iron shots and putted well. The Stadium Course is definitely going to be a bit tougher tomorrow though so I’ve still got a bit of work to do.
“It’s my first time at these courses and I’d been told I needed to take advantage on the Tour Course, but in the practice rounds I found them pretty similar if you hit it straight, it’s maybe just a bit tighter, but if you’re playing good golf you can make some birdies and hopefully I can make a few more tomorrow.
“It’s going to be a hard walk come those last two rounds because I’m not used to it – I’ve never done six rounds and the courses are very up and down so that’ll be interesting come Wednesday and Thursday.”
Angles, at 22 years of age, is only one month into his professional career but has already tasted victory on the satellite Alps Tour and the University of Central Arkansas alumnus is now targeting a spot on The European Tour.
“I graduated in America this May and came back to Europe to play my last few events as an amateur,” he said. “Then I went to my first tournament as a professional and I won it so that gave me real confidence coming into Q School.
“I started quite hot today, I had an eagle on the first and turned in six under, missed a few on the back nine, but I’m happy because it’s a tough week and it’s nice to have a good start to relax and get the week going.”
While the top three all took advantage of the scoring on the Tour Course, the best round on the Stadium Course came from Swedish amateur Marcus Kinhult, whose six under par 66 leaves him in a tie for fourth spot with five others.
“It isn’t easy really but I played well today and the game feels good so I’m looking forward to the rest of the week and hopefully it will be a long week for me,” said the 19 year old.
“There’s not that pressure here, or at least I don’t feel it anyways. It just feels good to be here and to play for something as big as a European Tour card or Challenge Tour card. I think I am one of the happier guys to be here, compared to others who don’t want to be here.
“It’s a good experience to be here and no matter how I play I will still learn from being here. I will probably turn professional after this no matter what, I’m just staying as an amateur to sort things out after this week.
“It would be sweet to get a European Tour card. I try not to think too much about it right now, just play my game and do the best that I can.”
Edoardo Molinari opened with a four under par round of 66 on the Tour Course as he bids to extend his stay on The European Tour to seven seasons while Ireland’s Paul Dunne shot a one under par round of 71 on the Stadium Course.
Elsewhere, France’s Matthieu Pavon made an albatross on the tenth hole of the Tour Course, holing with an eight iron from 170 yards, while South African Darryn Lloyd had a hole-in-one on the Tour Course’s 16th hole.
A marathon six-round week in Girona will ultimately result in the top 25 players and ties earning European Tour cards for next season, with the remainder of the field who make the cut after four rounds taking up spots on the European Challenge Tour for 2016.
Scores after round 1:
61 N Cullen (Aus),
63 M Palmer (RSA), P Angles (Esp),
64 G King (Eng), S Fernandez (am) (Esp), D Lloyd (RSA), R McGee (Irl),
65 H Porteous (RSA), J Hugo (RSA), J Scrivener (Aus),
66 J Huldahl (Den), E Molinari (Ita), J Dantorp (Swe), H Joannes (Bel), K Samooja (Fin), R McEvoy (Eng), M Kinhult (am) (Swe), S Manley (Wal),
67 D Law (Sco), P Shields (Sco), R Evans (Eng), A Karlsson (Swe), F Bergamaschi (Ita), E Kofstad (Nor), L Nemecz (Aut), M Pavon (Fra), S Hansen (Den), J Knutzon (USA), D Papadatos (Aus), L Canter (Eng),
68 D Huizing (Ned), C Costilla (Arg), F Mruzek (Cze), K Eriksson (Swe), S Walker (Eng), J Walters (RSA), T Gornik (Slo), J White (Eng), F Fritsch (Ger), M Jonzon (Swe), D Gaunt (Aus), W Besseling (Ned), R Fox (Nzl),
69 M Wiegele (Aut), R Finch (Eng), F Laporta (Ita), J Sarasti (Esp), G Green (Mas), J Cafourek (Cze), J Guerrier (Fra), J Doherty (Sco), M Brown (Nzl), T Murray (Eng), P Hedblom (Swe), R McGowan (Eng),
70 L Jensen (Den), D Vancsik (Arg), K Phelan (Irl), B Ritthammer (Ger), R Roussel (am) (Fra), C Hanson (Eng), N Holman (Aus), S Arnold (Aus), D Im (USA), C Pigem (Esp), K Ferrie (Eng), M Søgaard (Den), P Oriol (Esp), G Piris Mateu (Esp),
71 J Sandelin (Swe), N Bertasio (Ita), D Gavins (Eng), C Sordet (Fra), S Henry (Sco), S Thornton (Irl), M Foster (Eng), D McGrane (Irl), P Dunne (Irl), J Lara (Esp), J Rutherford (Eng), M Wallace (Eng), P Widegren (Swe), A Wejshag (Swe), L Gagli (Ita), R Johnson (Swe), C Ford (Eng), J Hahn (USA),
72 M Southgate (Eng), A Hartø (Den), J Lucquin (Fra), M Laskey (Wal), M Nixon (Eng), D Dixon (Eng), J Sjöholm (Swe), D Van Tonder (RSA), C Feldborg Nielsen (Swe), D Bransdon (Aus), J Loughrey (Eng), U Van Den Berg (RSA), R Coles (Eng), M Delpodio (Ita), A Murdaca (Aus), J Robinson (Eng),
73 B Neil (Sco), P Howard (Eng), B Pettersson (Swe), A Saddier (Fra), E Goya (Arg), A Chesters (Eng), F Andersson Hed (Swe), C Koerbler (Aut), A Tadini (Ita), S Brown (Eng), O Henningsson (Swe),
74 C Del Moral (Esp), M Lafeber (Ned), A Otaegui (Esp), G Axell (Swe), S Soderberg (Swe), D Burmester (RSA), P Martin Benavides (Esp), J Mullen (Eng), B Hafthorsson (Isl), E Cuartero Blanco (Esp), P Mejow (Ger), R Saxton (Ned), J Senior (Eng), D Foos (Ger), P Whiteford (Sco), V Riu (Fra), J Lima (Por), P Tarver-Jones (Eng), M Crespi (Ita), J Wrisdale (Eng),
5 R Kellett (Sco), J Higginbottom (Aus), M Welch (USA), R Santos (Por), C Blomstrand (Swe), M Lundberg (Swe), N Ravano (Ita),
76 D Kataoka (Jpn), N Dougherty (Eng), D Woltman (USA), M Orrin (Eng), J Smith (Eng), J Edfors (Swe), P Lawrie (Irl), N Lemke (Swe), G Murray (Sco), C Berardo (Fra), B Casey (Irl),
77 O Stark (Swe),
78 S Jeppesen (Swe),
79 R Gonzalez (Arg),
82 T Sinnott (Aus)