Paul Dunne got 2017 off to a positive start when he fired five birdies in a six hole stretch and signed for a four under par 68 in the Bay Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
The Greystones golfer, fitter and stronger than ever following some hard work over the winter, will be disappointed that he failed to build on his hot stretch and then bogeyed the 17th.
But making birdies at the eighth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th was still a good start to the year and while's he's four strokes behind European No 1 Henrik Stenson, who shot 64, Dunne finished the day tied for 10th place at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Stenson came into the event with little preparation but showed few signs of rust as he went out in six under 30 on the back nine and then birdied his 16th and 18th holes for an immaculate 64 and a two-shot lead overthree-time Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship winner Martin Kaymer, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, England's Oliver Fisher and Scotsman Marc Warren.
"I think I scored a bit better than what I played, but I kept it under control somewhat and hit a couple of close iron shots and made the putts," Stenson said. "And yeah, it wasn't too much stress out there."
The reigning Open champion, Stenson confessed he comes into the event under-prepared but determined to build on his major winning exploits in 2016.
"I just want to keep on developing my game," he said. "Keep on working hard on that, and come into the majors well prepared and well rested and try and put myself in contention. I feel like I can get the Claret Jug some company if I do that. I'm going to try my hardest."
On his build up and his opening round of the year, he added: "I didn't do much practice before I left, but the practice I did do was pretty good. I was quite amazed how good the game felt coming into today.
"But again, I feel like I scored better than I played. Main thing was the putter was working out nicely and had a chip-in and a couple of up-and-downs around the greens.
"So didn't put myself in too much trouble and yeah, 64, it's the second best score I've had here in Abu Dhabi. Good start to the week.
"I got off to a hot start there. I made a good birdie on 10. I hit a good shot into 12 and birdied that one, and the same on 13, so I started off with some nice birdies. Then when I did miss on 14, I chipped in from about 30 yards or so. I mean, there were a couple of bonus birdies out there.
"The main thing is you take advantage of them and keep it going and no dropped shots, which I think is probably a first in the first round of a season for me."
As for the changes to the European Tour's membership and Ryder Cup policies, Stenson was generally positive.
"The Tour is in a pretty good place and we're working towards making it more interesting, attracting young fans and players to the game," he said.
"I like quite a lot of the initiatives. I might be a bit conservative on some of the stuff out on the golf course during competitive play. I think I prefer to leave that one alone as much as we can.
"But otherwise, I listen to a lot of music when I practice back home. Golf is a lot about rhythm, and you definitely get that if you got some nice beats going when you're down there practicing, so I'm all for that."
US Open champion and world No 3 Dustin Johnson and defending champion Rickie Fowler both signed for a level par 72 while Darren Clarke bogeyed four of his last six holes for a three over par 75.
Other notable names on a packed leaderboard are Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjørn and Lee Westwood among the 17-strong group on four under, with Ian Poulter a further shot back. American stars Rickie Fowler – the defending champion this week – and US Open champion Dustin Johnson made a quiet start to the week with a pair of level par 72s.
Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, meanwhile, began his 500th appearance on The European Tour with a round of one under 71, after which he was presented with a custom-made video book which featured montages of still and moving images from the highlights of his career.
“You never know what you're going to get in the first tournament after such a long break, especially if you only practiced a little bit. Your expectations are high, but you don't know how much you will get out of your first tournament. I had a very good start. I made a long putt on 10 and that really started the round in a very positive way. I was standing on the seventh tee box and I said to myself, you know, it would be nice to get to four, so maybe if I can pick up one more birdie and I managed three.
“On some golf courses you need to work to shoot four or five under par. The golf course for me doesn't feel like I need to do a lot of special things in order to play well, because I usually putt well on those greens. I like a lot of the tee shots too. They really suit my eye, and again, if you are making putts, that's always for us professionals very, very important to see the ball going into the hole.”
“Everything was pretty sharp, really, which is quite surprising for me. I haven't done much in the last six, seven weeks since the DP World Tour Championship. I haven't really hit that many balls and only played a couple of rounds so that was pretty good.
“I like the way they set this golf course up. There's penalties for missing fairways, the rough is thicker than other venues we play at and the bunkers are well placed. I think there's a few hole where the really long hitters that can carry it 300, 310 have a big advantage. But all in all, I think it's a pretty fair driving golf course, no matter what distance you hit it. Certainly pays dividends if you can hit a lot of fairways around here.”
“It’s a great honour to join the 500 club. I have had a quick look through my book and it’s certainly a journey from young too old! It’s cool though and a nice memento of a great milestone I suppose. I remember the first event and a lot of the old memories. I remember how tough it was first and foremost but we got there eventually.
“Obviously so much has changed since I started out. When I first came on Tour, there were still guys using persimmon woods. I would say the standard of golf's changed. Back in the day, it was the same guys winning all the time. But now, if you're in the field, you've got a chance. You know, the opportunities we've got now, and the way the Tour has grown is phenomenal. We are still growing and to be part of the latest era with the Rolex Series coming up this year is immense.”
Round one scores
64 H Stenson (Swe);
66 K Aphibarnrat (Tha); O Fisher (Eng); M Kaymer (Ger); M Warren (Sco);
67 J Quesne (Fra); T Hatton (Eng); R Cabrera Bello (Esp); T Fleetwood (Eng);
68 B Dredge (Wal); B Grace (RSA); J Scrivener (Aus); C Shinkwin (Eng); B Wiesberger (Aut); L Slattery (Eng); P Hanson (Swe); J Wang (Kor); G Havret (Fra); P Larrazábal (Esp); L Westwood (Eng); M Korhonen (Fin); D Lipsky (USA); T Bjørn (Den); J Smith (Eng); Paul Dunne (Irl); S Chawrasia (Ind);
69 M Fitzpatrick (Eng); A Björk (Swe); B An (Kor); R Fox (Nzl); I Poulter (Eng); A Wall (Eng); R Ramsay (Sco); D Burmester (RSA); G Stal (Fra); R Fisher (Eng); T Olesen (Den);
70 R Karlsson (Swe); F Aguilar (Chi); A Quiros (Esp); P Uihlein (USA); D Im (USA); D Drysdale (Sco); M Kieffer (Ger); T Lewis (Eng); G Coetzee (RSA); N Elvira (Esp); A Sullivan (Eng); N Fasth (Swe); A Knappe (Ger); J Donaldson (Wal);
71 S Brazel (Aus); T Aiken (RSA); S Jamieson (Sco); S Gallacher (Sco); T Fisher Jnr (RSA); C Paisley (Eng); D Horsey (Eng); R Langasque (Fra); R Karlberg (Swe); P Edberg (Swe); R Jacquelin (Fra); J Van Zyl (RSA); M Ilonen (Fin); M Pavon (Fra); A Noren (Swe); B Hebert (Fra); D Stewart (Sco); K Broberg (Swe); P Peterson (USA); B Rumford (Aus); J Walters (RSA); C Hanson (Eng); G Storm (Eng);
72 R Fowler (USA); A Cañizares (Esp); J Lagergren (Swe); J Luiten (Ned); A Otaegui (Esp); L Jensen (Den); D Johnson (USA); G Bourdy (Fra); R Wattel (Fra); E De La Riva (Esp); R Paratore (Ita); B Ritthammer (Ger); J Carlsson (Swe); T Immelman (RSA); T Jaidee (Tha); J Campillo (Esp); A Levy (Fra); R Gouveia (Por); C Luck (am) (Aus); R Thomas (am) (Ind);
73 F Zanotti (Par); S Dyson (Eng); D Howell (Eng); P Lawrie (Sco); M Siem (Ger); M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra); N Holman (Aus); W Ormsby (Aus); D Brooks (Eng); S Walker (Eng); M Southgate (Eng); T Pieters (Bel); M Manassero (Ita); L Bjerregaard (Den); R Rock (Eng); N Colsaerts (Bel);
74 R Bland (Eng); N Bertasio (Ita); D Willett (Eng); J Morrison (Eng); P Waring (Eng); M Carlsson (Swe);
75 A Dodt (Aus); S Hend (Aus); S Gros (Fra); Darren Clarke (Nir); D Fichardt (RSA); S Lee (Kor);
76 C Wood (Eng); E Pepperell (Eng);
78 H Porteous (RSA);
79 D Frittelli (RSA).