PGA Europro Tour — Royal Dublin's Niall Kearney and Ballymena's Dermot McElroy got off to positive starts as they chase the top finishes they need in the season-ending Sky Sports Tour Championship to graduate to the Challenge Tour next season.
Only the top-five in the Europro Tour's final "Race to Amendoeira" standings will earn promotion to the Challenge Tour for 2018.
And while 10th-ranked Kearney is £8,131 behind fifth-ranked James Adams and needs to finish tied second at worst to earn his spurs, his two-under 70 left him nicely placed in a share of third with Welshman James Frazer after a day of 40 mph winds at Amendoeira Golf Resort's Oceanico Faldo Course in Portugal.
He is two strokes behind England's Adam Chapman, whose 68 gave him a one-shot lead over compatriot Mark Young.
McElroy is seventh on the money list and as he's £3,907 outside the top-five, he must finish solo fourth at worst to earn his Challenge Tour card this week.
A one-under 71 leaves McElroy alone in fifth place, but it's going to be harder now for Narin & Portnoo's Brendan McCarroll, who is tied for 17th with Jonny Caldwell after a two-over 74.
McCarroll is ranked 17th in the money list, £11,633 outside the top five, and needs to finish solo second at worst in the season-ending event that offers £22,540 for the winner.
Caldwell is sitting pretty at fourth in the rankings and still has time to improve from his two-over 74 and copper-fasten his return to the Challenge Tour over 54 holes in this no-cut event.
Headfort's Brian Casey and Limerick's Tim Rice must win to graduate to Europe's second tier tour but both now face an uphill task with Casey carding a six-over 78 and Rice a nine-over 81.
Race To Amendoeria leader Chris Lloyd withdrew from play just minutes before his tee time, providing ample opportunity for the likes of MK Kim and Nick Marsh to launch a late attack for the Order of Merit top spot.
However, none of the other top five golfers in the Order of Merit shot under-par first rounds which Lloyd will be pleased to see.
Strong winds of almost 40mph from midday onwards meant scores stayed well above par for the majority of the field, but not in Chapman’s case.
“I got off to good a start, three-under par after six holes. I hit the ball really well, and only dropped a shot on the 7th,” said Chapman, who is seeking his first win on the EuroPro Tour this season.
He added: “I feel like everything came together really well today, I probably had about two and a half holes with little wind, but soon after it picked up and it was a struggle from then onwards.”
On the prospect of winning in Amendoeira Chapman said: “It would mean the world to me, I’ve been pretty disappointed with my season so far so a win here would make things a lot better.”
Highlights from the Sky Sports Tour Championship at Amendoeira Golf Resort will air on Sky Sports Golf in November.
Sky Sports Tour Championship, Oceanico Faldo Course, Amendoeira Golf Resort (Par 72)
T3 Niall Kearney (The Royal Dublin) 70
5 Dermot McElroy (Ballymena) 71
T17 Brendan McCarroll (Narin & Portnoo) 74
T17 Jonathan Caldwell (Clandeboye) 74
T33 James Adams (Druids Heath, UK) 77
T38 Brian Casey 78
T51 Tim Rice (Limerick) 81