There’s a long way to go but Ireland’s quartet of European Tour Qualifying School hopefuls are outside the crucial top 25 and ties after the first round of the Final Stage at PGA Catalunya Resort near Girona.
With conditions perfect for golf — cool, sunny and only a little breezy later in the afternoon — 74 of the 156 strong field broke par but while two of those were Irish, the news still wasn’t for setting off any fireworks.
Five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey was the best of the bunch, but having raced to five under par for his round through 12 holes on the tough Stadium Course, the 37-year old dropped three shots on the homeward run over the front nine for a 70 that left him fir for 43rd on two under, five shots behind England’s Peter McEvoy and Sweden’s Michael Jonzon, who posted seven under 63s on the easier Tour Course.
Nine of the top 10 scores came on the 6,613-yard, par-70 Tour Course with the average score there 68.69 compared to 72.37 for the 7,3334 yard, par-72 Stadium Course.
A six under 66 by Germany’s Christian Braeunig was the best of the bunch there, followed by a pair of 67s for Zander Lombard.
Hoey was no doing somersalts after his 70 while Ruaidhri McGee retired to the clubhouse balcony afterwards for a teapot full of something calming after his one over 73 alongside Hoey and Ross McGowan (68) in a share of 95th.
Kevin Phelan was chipper despite holing little for a one under 69 at the Tour Course and a share for 58th while his fellow Waterford man Gary Hurley was clearly bitterly disappointed to post a four over 74 there to lie 140th heading to the Stadium Course on Saturday.
Having gotten to five under par after 12, Hoey was disappointed not to take great advantage.
After a rescue to four feet set up an eagle three at the 12th, his third, he two—putted the 15th for his birdie four, then it a seven iron close to birdied the second and holed a 35 footer from the front of the par-five third to go five under.
A three wood left him a short iron to the water-protected fourth but with the wind switching , he ended up catching his approach heavy and found the water short and ran up a double bogey six.
He then missed the fairway left at the ninth, ran over the back and missed a 10 footer for his par.
“I wasn’t feeling 100 percent after the flight but I got off good start and was five under after 12 and just mishit my second to the fourth,” Hoey said.
“I was out of position at the last and bogeyed there but I am not too disappointed. I played ok and a round under par on the Stadium Course is never too bad.
“With preferred lies, it was playing a lot easier than it did for the Spanish Open, when it was rock hard and the rough was fiddly. This is more target golf.
"It would have been nice to shoot a bit lower but I suppose it wasn’t too bad, all things considered.
“There this is, I wasn’t that nervous, which is not really what you want. Hopefully I can start feeling a bit more nervous over the next few days because that would be a good sign.
“I’ve been like that all year — just a bit flat.”
McGee’s 73 was indicative of his season — an eagle three and two birdies but too many bogeys, five in total as he ended the day tied 95th.
Hurley was even more annoyed with his four over 74 on the Tour Course, where he first, fourth and fifth to leave himself behind the eight-ball.
When he birdied the ninth and par-three 14th to get back to just one over, a fast finish beckoned.
But he found water with his attempt to go for the green in two at the 15th and made a bogey six, then failed to get up and down from sand and bogeyed the par-three 16th.
“I didn’t play too well,” said Hurley, who described his year as “poor enough” with a couple of good spells.
Lamenting his lack of luck, he said: “All the par-fives I hit decent tee shots on, I got screwed, behind a tree or I got a bad lie.
“On 15 I got a decent lie in the left semi and it was fine for yardage but there was rough to get through behind it, I caught it a little but skinny and it didn’t make the carry.
"I struggled to be honest, I struggled on the greens. I struggled on the greens last week too, to be honest as well, I putted badly.
“The Stadium Course is tougher than that one I played today that’s for sure, so I will have to play a bit better.”
Like Hoey, Phelan has graduated from Q-School at PGA Catalunya and he knows that nobody, bar the disqualified Johan Edfors, is out of the reckoning yet.
The Mount Juliet touring professional bogeyed his second hole, the 11th, but birdied the 13th, 15th and 16th before leaking a shot on his homeward nine.
“I played alright,” Phelan said. "I was in trouble a couple of times off the tee and got out of it. I could have holed a few more putts.
“I bogeyed my second hole but then I made three in four holes at 13, 15 and 16 from 15 feet, 5 feet and 10 feet. I holed out really well and my iron play was pretty good but I I hit a couple of average tee shots and had just one more bogey on the fourth.
"So I guess I just played okay. I gave myself lots of birdie chances but not a lot more dropped. But the form has been decent.
"I played well last week after a few weeks off. The game has been good for a while but I haven’t managed to get it all together. But it feels good at the moment.
“Overall I played quite well, could have made a few more birdies but happy enough.”
Joint leader McEvoy maintained his remarkable affinity with Girona having earned his card here for the last two years and also successfu in 2012.
He has also had equally happy experiences in 2006 – at San Roque Club – and at Emporda GC and Golf Platja de Pals, where he won in 2003.
Tackling the Tour Course on the first day of this week’s six round marathon, he made six birdies and an eagle to move into familiar territory at the top of the leaderboard.
“Although it sounds a bit strange, I always enjoy coming back here,” said the 37 year old. “It is a venue I have always enjoyed playing at, and I feel that both courses suit my game quite well. Although I would rather not be here it is a place I don’t mind coming to as I always play well.
“It sets up really well for my game. I drive the ball straight and my iron play is fairly solid, which works well here as your long iron game has to be good and for me at the moment that part of my game has been good recently.
“Overall my long game was just very solid and I gave myself plenty of chances. When I had the chances I took them today which was great. It was a great start and I am very happy.
“I came here in pretty good form after shooting some good scores recently, so I am feeling confident, especially after coming back to a venue I know I can play well at.”
Tied at the top is Swede Jonzon, who did not drop a shot all day while also playing the Tour Course, and the Swede was delighted to be showing glimpses of the form that has won him two European Tour titles in the past.
“The putter worked great out there today,” said the 44 year old. “The greens first off were really nice as well and I got started with some really nice putts. I played solid – not the best I can play – but my putting was very, very good.
“My game plan was to try and post a score rather than playing too defensively. You know that this course gives you more birdie chances so you want to have a good first round on it. I wanted to make a solid start as mentally it is a tough week.
“You need to just be patient and if you get a good start make sure you capitalise on it. I am going to try and follow it up on the Stadium Course tomorrow but there is a long way to go.”
Germany’s Braeunig was the pick of the performers on the traditionally more testing Stadium Course, and the German’s excellent six under par round of 66 could have been even better but for dropped shots on his final two holes.
He shares third place with Thitiphun Chuayprakong, Robert Coles, Scott Henry, Bradley Neil, Julian Suri, Steven Tiley and Steve Webster, all of whom opened with 64s on the Tour Course.
Scores after round one:
63 M Jonzon (Swe), R McEvoy (Eng) ;
64 T Chuayprakong (Tha), J Suri (USA), S Webster (Eng), B Neil (Sco), S Henry (Sco), S Tiley (Eng), R Coles (Eng),
65 M Lafeber (Ned), M Godoy (Arg),
66 B Etchart (Esp), A Rai (Eng), C Koepka (USA), M Lampert (Ger), O Rozner (Fra), D Law (Sco), E Molinari (Ita), D Van Driel (Ned), C Braeunig(Ger),
67 M Nixon (Eng), C Sordet (Fra), R Gonzalez (Arg), R Sciot-Siegrist (Fra), B Hemstock (Eng), M Foster (Eng), Z Lombard (RSA), G Mulroy (RSA), B Eccles (Aus), J Allan (Eng), M Orrin (Eng), E Kofstad (Nor), J Lara (Esp), J Hansen (Den),
68 U Van Den Berg (RSA), C Griffiths (Eng), O Wilson (Eng), A Maestroni (Ita), S Heisele (Ger), A Chesters (Eng), K Horne (RSA), R Gangjee (Ind), J Winther (Den), A Quiros (Esp), R McGowan (Eng), P Imondi (USA), J Fahrbring (Swe),
69 C Carstensen (Ger), Kevin Phelan (Irl), R Echenique (Arg), J Guerrier (Fra), B Stow (Eng), V Riu (Fra), M Wiegele (Aut), O Stark (Swe), L Canter (Eng), J Lando Casanova (Fra), J Dantorp (Swe), E Pepperell (Eng),
70 J Girrbach (Sui), N Johansson (Swe), B Evans (Eng), J Ahlers (RSA), E Di Nitto (Ita), J Harrison (Eng), Michael Hoey (Nir), A Velasco (Esp), J Garcia Pinto (Esp), D Vancsik (Arg), M Bremner (RSA), J Heath (Eng), N Kimsey (Eng),
71 J Parry (Eng), T Van Der Walt (RSA), A Karlsson (Swe), S Surry (Eng), P Eriksson (Swe), M Lundberg (Swe), L Gagli (Ita), J Van Der Vaart (Ned), D Gavins (Eng), E Dubois (Fra), J Blaauw (RSA), F Marty (Fra), A Connelly (USA), E Van Rooyen (RSA), R Van Der Spuy (RSA),
72 D Fox (Aus), C Bull (Eng), R Kellett (Sco), P Widegren (Swe), Y Yang (Kor), S Soderberg (Swe), R Johnson (Swe), S Khan (Eng), S Forsström (Swe), R Kakko (Fin), K Ferrie (Eng), S Manley (Wal), L De Jager (RSA), J Rutherford (Eng), P Oriol (Esp), R Dinwiddie (Eng), M Ford (Eng), C Lee (Sco), C Bouniol (Fra), E Loar (USA), J Hugo (RSA), M Brown (Nzl), M Tullo (Chi),
73 O Farr (Wal), R Saxton (Ned), R Santos (Por), R Finch (Eng), D Huizing (Ned), T Lewis (Eng), M Delpodio (Ita), M Fenasse (Fra), T Linard (Fra), D Burmester (RSA), B Easton (RSA), A Saddier (Fra), B Rumford (Aus), G King (Eng), G Porteous (Eng), O Lengden (Swe), Ruaidhri McGee (Irl), C Berardo (Fra),
74 C Del Moral (Esp), O Henningsson (Swe), M Laier (Ger), Gary Hurley (Irl), G Forrest (Sco), R McCarthy (Aus), M Madsen (Den), D Dixon (Eng),
75 P Maddy (Eng), M Vibe-Hastrup (Den), M Brier (Aut), B Munson (USA), M Simonsen (Den), M Crespi (Ita), P Martin Benavides (Esp), R Evans (Eng), P Kopp (Ger),
76 C Ford (Eng), G Axell (Swe), M Perry (Nzl), P Whiteford (Sco), B Pettersson (Swe),
77 R Davies (Wal), E Goya (Arg), T Pulkkanen (Fin),
78 B Virto (Esp),
80 J Zunic (Aus),
DQ J Edfors (Swe) [signed for a wrong score]