Rosapenna’s Ruaidhri McGee and Mount Juliet’s Kevin Phelan share 38th on three under after opening with 69s in the rescheduled Madeira Islands Open – Portugal – BPI.
McGee had an eagle two at the 10th as well as two birdies in his round as Phelan racked up five birdies around Clube de Golf do Santo da Serra.
Spain’s Antonio Hortal, one over after four, carded eight birdies and an eagle in a nine under 63 and move into the lead.
Winner of the Challenge de Catalunya on home soil last year, he marginally missed out on graduation to the European Tour, finishing one place outside the crucial top 15 in the Road to Oman Rankings.
A victory this week would change everything for the 24 year old but he knows he cannot get ahead of himself with 54 holes still to play.
Nacho Elvira, meanwhile, continued his mercurial form this season with an impressive eight under par 64.
Two more in-form Challenge Tour players, New Zealand’s Ryan Fox and Frenchman Sebastian Gros – second and eighth respectively in the Road to Oman Rankings - were a shot further back after carding seven under rounds of 65.
The other two Irishmen in the field have work to do to make the cut with Simon Thornton 99th on level par after a 72 and Peter Lawrie a shot furhter back in 119th after a 73 feautring four birdies, three bogeys and a double.
Madeira Islands Open – Portugal – BPI
63 A Hortal (Esp) ,
64 N Elvira (Esp) ,
65 S Gros (Fra) , R Fox (Nzl) ,
66 A Hartø (Den) , S Henry (Sco) , M Schneider (Ger) , R Kakko (Fin) , C Paisley (Eng) , S Manley (Wal) , R Santos (Por) , P Oriol (Esp) ,
67 D Im (USA) , R Davies (Wal) , J Hansen (Den) , J Walters (RSA) , S Jeppesen (Swe) , S Walker (Eng) , S Soderberg (Swe) , P Widegren (Swe) ,
68 B Stone (RSA) , S Fallon (Eng) , P Maddy (Eng) , D Huizing (Ned) , S Tiley (Eng) , O Bekker (RSA) , A Velasco (Esp) , C Shinkwin (Eng) , S Heisele (Ger) , B Ritthammer (Ger) , A McArthur (Sco) , R Gouveia (Por) , A Tadini (Ita) , M Orrin (Eng) , P Relecom (Bel) , D Vancsik (Arg) , S Hutsby (Eng) ,
69 J Gonnet (Fra) , Kevin Phelan (Irl) , C Del Moral (Esp) , Ruaidhri McGee (Irl) , C Hanson (Eng) , F Calmels (Fra) , S Wakefield (Eng) , N Geyger (Chi) , C Pigem (Esp) , M Bremner (RSA) , J Sandelin (Swe) , G Murray (Sco) , J Rask (Swe) , C Arendell (USA) , S Einhaus (Ger) ,
72 Simon Thornton (Irl)
73 Peter Lawrie (Irl)