Hot scoring left the Irish quintet with work to contend for the D+D REAL Czech Challenge at Golf and Spa Kunetická Hora.
On a day when England's Jordan L Smith continued his remarkable start to his rookie European Challenge Tour season courtesy of an eight under par 64, no fewer than 96 players in the 156-strong field broke par.
They didn’t include Chris Selfridge, who undid a solid round by finishing triple bogey, bogey (6-5) for a one over 73 or Jeff Hopkins, who bogeyed three of his last four for a 75.
Gary Hurley is the best of the bunch with his six-birdie, four under 68 leaving him four behind 23-year old Smith in a share of 24th.
The West Waterford man started with seven pars on the back nine, then birdied the par-three eighth and added further birdies at the first and second to move quickly to three under in one of the afternoon groups.
A double bogey six at the third put him almost back to square one but he responded well with a hat-trick of birdies from the fifth, his 14th.
Headfort’s Brian Casey birdied his 16th and 17th for a two under 70 that featured four bogeys. But it was a round that only left Casey tied fro 58th, just inside the cut mark.
Ardglass’ Cormac Sharvin had two birdies and just one bogey in a 71 but he’s tied 75th and needs a good Friday to progress to the weekend.
As for Smith, he claimed his maiden title in just the second event of the campaign, courtesy of a two-shot triumph at the Red Sea Egyptian Challenge Presented by Hassan Allam Properties last month.
He was once again on imperious form at Golf and Spa Kunetická Hora, teeing off at the tenth before picking up an early shot at the 11th, which was later followed by a trio of successive birdies from the 15th - holing out from 30 feet to round off that purple patch.
Back to back birdies at the second and third, as well as at the sixth and seventh, were enough to move him one shot clear of Frenchman Adrien Saddier, Ben Eccles of Australia, Italy’s Andrea Pavan and Reinier Saxton of the Netherlands.
“I hit it really well today to be honest,” said the Bath player. “I missed a few makeable putts at the start but got it going then, got into a groove and swung it really nicely. I hit every shot I wanted to and holed some nice putts.
“It’s definitely a scoreable course but you have to be careful because the rough is up in some places and the greens are quite slopey, but I’m very happy with how I played. I really like the course - I played here last year and I really enjoy it, so I’m looking forward to the next few days.”
Having won the satellite EuroPro Tour rankings last year thanks to victory in the final event of the season, Smith came into this campaign with confidence sky high and now he has got his sights set on the top 15 of the Road to Oman, and perhaps even the rankings number one spot for a second consecutive year.
“Winning in the EuroPro Tour at the end of last year and winning the rankings gave me a massive confidence boost coming into 2016,” he said. “But I’ve been hitting it really well for six months or so now. It was just a case of getting the putter working and so far it’s been going well.
“I wasn’t expecting everything to happen so quickly at all but I am just concentrating on that top 15. I just have to take weeks off when I need to, get ready for the Rolex Trophy and the one in England (Bridgestone Challenge), and then make sure I’m ready for the last six at the end of the year.
“I guess the number one spot is something to keep me focussed and keep me going, trying to get every point that I can.”
He leads by one stroke from three seasoned campaigners in Italy’s Andrea Pavan, The Netherlands’ Rainier Sexton, Frenchman Adrien Saddier and Australian rookie Ben Eccles.
“It was a good round,” said the 21 year old, who won the New South Wales Open Championship on the PGA of Australasia Tour as an amateur last year.
“I got off to a quick start with a birdie at the second and then just kept it rolling. I hit it pretty well all day and just managed to take advantage of that.
“It’s a nice position to be in. I think I was the last invite into this event so to be where I’m at now is a pretty good feeling.
“It’s my first Challenge Tour event – I turned professional in November and I’ve played a few European Tour events through invitations and through my status in Australia. I’m just happy to be here.
“I’ve wanted to play in Europe since I was a kid and getting European Tour starts is unreal but I just haven’t managed to take advantage of them yet. I’m just playing through the tough weeks, and to be able to do something this week would be nice.”
64 J Smith (Eng),
65 R Saxton (Ned), A Saddier (Fra), B Eccles (Aus), A Pavan (Ita),
66 T Murray (Eng), C Ford (Eng), P Whiteford (Sco), J Senior (Eng), J Dantorp (Swe), M Nixon (Eng), J Garcia Pinto (Esp),
67 A Rota (Ita), M Trappel (Aut), B Stow (Eng), G Murray (Sco), S Forsstrom (Swe), D Bransdon (Aus), M Tullo (Chi), S Hutsby (Eng), R Santos (Por), R Kind (Ned), F Fritsch (Ger),
68 P Mejow (Ger), S Connor (Eng), L Canter (Eng), C Berardo (Fra), S Kim (USA), S Henry (Sco), Gary Hurley (Irl), D Stewart (Sco), S Fallon (Eng), J Makitalo (Fin), T Sinnott (Aus), M Wiegele (Aut), D Wright (Eng),
69 M Dobias (Sui), E Kofstad (Nor), E Cuartero Blanco (Esp), A Chesters (Eng), J Doherty (Sco), S Soderberg (Swe), C Blomstrand (Swe), P Vejgaard (Den), R Enoch (Wal), T Remkes (Ned), J Lima (Por), W Besseling (Ned), A Tadini (Ita), D Perrier (Fra), A Velasco (Esp), C Sordet (Fra), D Lloyd (RSA), M Armitage (Eng), O Farr (Wal), J Barnes (Eng), V Novak (am) (Cze),
70 D Gaunt (Aus), J Van Der Vaart (Ned), P Angles (Esp), G Porteous (Eng), N Geyger (Chi), Brian Casey (Irl), D Foos (Ger), A Perrino (Ita), K Hesbois (Bel), M Delpodio (Ita), F Laporta (Ita), S Wolters (Ger), J White (Eng), J Lando Casanova (Fra), N Quintarelli (Ita), P Widegren (Swe), S Piaget (Mon),
71 E Blom (Swe), E Porter (Aus), D Ulrich (Sui), D Law (Sco), P Oriol (Esp), S Tiley (Eng), S Fernandez (Esp), A Korinek (Cze), R Roussel (Fra), L Gagli (Ita), E Johansen (Nor), C Arendell (USA), D Papadatos (Aus), B Ritthammer (Ger), F Bergamaschi (Ita), J Sjöholm (Swe), J Cafourek (Cze), E Dubois (Fra), J Heath (Eng), Cormac Sharvin (Nir), A Hartø (Den), A Björk (Swe),
72 M Lampert (Ger), S Jeppesen (Swe), P Shields (Sco), F Calmels (Fra), M Lafeber (Ned), P Howard (Eng), M Keskari (Ger), C Del Moral (Esp), J Lara (Esp), D Huizing (Ned), S Arnold (Aus), J Wrisdale (Eng), R Coles (Eng), A Maestroni (Ita), A Karlsson (Swe), J Loughrey (Eng), N Schellong (am) (Cze), M Zapletal (am) (Cze),
73 W Harrold (Eng), J Edfors (Swe), D Suchan (Cze), T Bakker (Fin), M Hocaoglu (Tur), L Nemecz (Aut), S Brown (Eng), Chris Selfridge (Nir), B Rusch (Sui), P Valasek (Svk), V Riu (Fra), T Tree (Eng),
74 G Watremez (Bel), J Allan (Eng), M Søgaard (Den), H Bacher (Aut), H Joannes (Bel), G Piris Mateu (Esp), P Relecom (Bel), O Henningsson (Swe), L Tintera (Cze), D Van Driel (Ned), O Stark (Swe), B Moore (am) (Eng),
75 C Costilla (Arg), C Doak (Sco), M Schneider (Ger), P Maddy (Eng), L Motta (Ita), Jeff Hopkins (Irl), M Palmer (RSA),
76 F Praegant (Aut), M Crespi (Ita), M Pospisil (am) (Cze), O Lisy (am) (Cze),
77 J Friesz (Svk), P Nic (Cze), P Gal (Cze),
78 P Martin Benavides (Esp), P Dedek (Cze), A Hortal (Esp),
83 R Molnar (Aut).