Gavin Moynihan might not have been swinging his best in practice but he found a gusting northwest wind brought out the best in him as he opened his account with a battling 69 at the Final Stage of the European Tour Qualifying School in Catalonia.
While the top 25 and ties after six rounds at Lumine Golf & Beach Club will win European Tour playing rights for 2018, the top 10 will get to play far more events than those who finish from 11th to 25th and that's Moynihan's goal as he bids to build on an excellent 2017 campaign.
His two-under par effort on the Lakes Course in winds gusting up to 20mph at times was an excellent effort, especially after he was forced to get up and down from sand for par at the short 17th and then hole a 20 footer for a bogey six at the 18th.
The touring professional for Mount Juliet Resort was forced to take a penalty drop after driving into a water hazard on the right. But even though his recovery ricocheted off a tree and went only 50 yards, leaving him a wood for his fourth shot, he managed to get up and down from short of the green to limit the damage to just one dropped shot.
"I'm happy enough," said Moynihan, who finished the day tied for 25th, five strokes adrift of Frenchman Gary Stal, who shot a bogey-free, seven-under-par 64 on the same course to lead by a stroke from Italy's Andrea Pavan.
"Quite honestly, I felt very rusty today. The two practice rounds I played, I wasn't hitting it well.
"But I warmed up okay and I was happy when the wind picked up because I was hitting more punchy shots — more with my arms than full shots.
"I thought today was a pretty good knock because you were hitting seven-iron from 135 yards and five-iron from 165 into the wind, which was a big adjustment from Oman last week.
"So it was playing long and I made a few good saves, especially on 17. I landed my bunker shot eight to nine feet above the hole and it sucked back to six feet below it. After the way I was hitting it yesterday, I am quite happy.
"I was just tired because that six weeks in a row was the longest stint I have ever done. I felt a bit low on energy so I am looking forward to a little bit of time off."
Moynihan, 24, knows that after finishing 19th in the Challenge Tour rankings, he will get up to 12 European Tour starts next year . But the top 10 here will get far more — as many as 25 — and that means he's treating the week as a bonus.
As 26-year-old Ruaidhri McGee shot a one-over 72 and Ballymena's Dermot McElroy a three-over 74 in the final group of the day on the Lakes, Ardglass' Cormac Sharvin fell victim to the last three holes on the front nine on the tougher Hills Course, finishing with three bogeys for a two-over 74.
Moynihan got off to a fast start with three birdies in his first five holes, then recovered from a three-putt bogey at the seventh with a birdie at the eighth to turn in 32.
A seven-iron to a foot at the 13th yielded another birdie and while he was semi-plugged in a bunker and bogeyed the par-three 14th, he was pleased to grind his way home into the wind without doing much damage.
"I had to hit driver-rescue on two of the par fours because the ball is going nowhere compared to Oman," he said. "So I'm happy.
"The Hills Course tomorrow is much harder and tighter, plus it is going to be windier. So it's just a question of getting in position for the first four days, make the cut [top 70 and ties] and then just go for it the last two days. This is a bonus for me, no matter what happens."
McGee played solidly for his 72 and shares 80th place on one-over while McElroy is tied 121st after failing to hit it close or hole putts in his 74.
"I played fairly solid, drove it really well today and my iron play was decent," the Ballymena man said. "I just found it very difficult to get it close because it was very gusty.
"There are a lot of wedges out there, and that's my strength, but I found it very difficult to control my ball flight into the wind.
"It was always rising so I was coming up short into the wind and going too long downwind. I just found it hard to get it close.
"But in general I am quite happy with the way I played. I am not pissed off with three-over. I know I am playing decent so I will shoot a good score tomorrow, hopefully.
"I hit a lot of greens and definitely had more than 30 putts. I am quite happy with the way things are going and not too down about this three-over today."
McElroy insists that at 23, he's a much calmer and more patient player than the youngster who missed the 72 hole cut by just a couple of shots on his first visit to the FInal Stage in 2013.
"My patience wasn't great but now it's much better," he said, adding that he was pleased with his form on the Europro Tour this year, despite not taking one of the four chances he had to win.
"I have learnt over the years that you can't hit every shot perfect," he said. "Golf is not a game of perfection. It is just playing golf and trying to shoot a good score. That's all you can do."
Sharvin was also upbeat despite finishing with three successive bogeys on the Hills Course.
Having started with a bogey at the 10th, the 25-year-old birdied the par-five 11th and the 13th, then made 11 pars in a row to be one-under with three to play before the bogeys arrived.
"I played nicely today and had it under control but I made a little mental error on my second shot to the seventh, my 16th, and by not committing to the shot into the green that I had visualised, I made six.
"Then on eight and nine I hit it in the fringe with a three-iron on both my approaches and didn't manage to get it up and in.
"But I was happy with the way I played! I just didn't get anything out of my round, but there's a long way to go!"
As for Stal, who held of challenges from Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy to triumph at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in 2015, he bagged five birdies and an eagle during an exceptional opening round on the Lakes Course.
Starting on the par four 10th, the 25-year-old began with six consecutive pars before making his first gain of the day at the testing par five 16th – then showed his short game prowess by chipping in for eagle at the 18th.
Stal, who last progressed from Qualifying School in 2013, continued to impress over the front nine, his back nine, by carding four further birdies to sit one shot ahead of Italy’s Andrea Pavan after 18 holes.
Although content with his opening day display, Stal knows that there is still a long way to go in Tarragona – but believes he has the game to regain his European Tour card after five more rounds.
“I am very happy with my start,” said Stal, who will play the Hills Course on Sunday.
“It is a very long tournament with there being six rounds but my game is good and we will see what happens.
“I drove the ball really well today – very straight. I was also very accurate with my long irons and I managed to hole a few putts so all in all it was a great opening day.
“I played really solid, I holed everything between five and six feet, and my best moment of the day came at the 18th where I chipped in from the edge of the green.
“It was my first time playing here and it is a really good course. It was not easy in the windy conditions today so I am very happy with my score.
“Tomorrow should be more difficult as the Hills Course is a lot more exposed, but I feel very confident after my performance today.”
Also impressing during the first round in Spain was Pavan, who arrived in Tarragona in fine form having won at Second Stage in Panoramica just six days ago.
After a 65 on the Lakes Course the 28-year-old sits in solo second, with former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson one of four competitors who sit one shot further back in tied third place.
European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage, Lumine Golf Club (Lakes Course, Par 71; Hills Course, Par 72) Tarragona
64 G Stal (Fra),
65 A Pavan (Ita),
67 M Foster (Eng), J Winther (Den), N Geyger (Chi), J Vecchi Fossa (Ita), J Thomson (Eng), H Sturehed (Swe), R Macintyre (Sco), O Wilson (Eng), J Huldahl (Den),
68 Ó Serna (Mex), M Lafeber (Ned), D Law (Sco), N Kimsey (Eng), E Johansen (Nor), C Lloyd (Eng), M Schneider (Ger),
69 P Widegren (Swe), S Webster (Eng), A Knappe (Ger), J Quesne (Fra), B Evans (Eng), J Munro (Aus), R Kakko (Fin), C Bezuidenhout (RSA), B Easton (RSA), A Rozner (Fra), S Horsfield (Eng), P Mejow (Ger), J Dean (Eng), S Manley (Wal), J Van Der Vaart (Ned), Gavin Moynihan (Irl),
70 J Stalter (Fra), L Nemecz (Aut), K Broberg (Swe), C Braeunig (Ger), S Gros (Fra), J Arnoy (Nor), T Murray (Eng), M Nixon (Eng), H Otto (RSA), J Edfors (Swe), J Parry (Eng), A Arnaus (Esp), P Pittayarat (Tha), R McEvoy (Eng), K Koivu (am) (Fin),
71 M Armitage (Eng), L Gagli (Ita), D Brown (Eng), J Sjöholm (Swe), J Kruyswijk (RSA), L Canter (Eng), M Schwab (Aut), S Soderberg (Swe), M Baldwin (Eng), J Veerman (USA), D Papadatos (Aus), K Johannessen (Nor), M Salminen (Fin), R Gonzalez (Arg), Å Nilsson (Swe), A Blyth (Aus), A Hansen (Den),
72 C Blomstrand (Swe), D Foos (Ger), S Tiley (Eng), A Rosaye (Fra), R McGowan (Eng), S Vincent (Zim), J Heath (Eng), T Tree (Eng), J Hansen (Den), M Jonzon (Swe), C Syme (Sco), J Geary (Nzl), J Rutherford (Eng), Ruaidhri McGee (Irl), S Heisele (Ger), S Khan (Eng), N Fasth (Swe), J Brun (Fra), E Park (Kor), R Sciot-Siegrist (Fra), F Dreier (Den), G Fernandez - Castaño (Esp), M Orrin (Eng),
73 S Gregory (Eng), E De La Riva (Esp), A Hall (Aus), C Doak (Sco), N Cullen (Aus), B Hafthorsson (Isl), R Petersson (Swe), A Michael (RSA), F Aguilar (Chi), J Erkenbeck (USA), R Dinwiddie (Eng), M Trappel (Aut), O Lindell (Fin), C Ford (Eng), H Leon (Chi), P Angles (Esp), M Lampert (Ger), G Forrest (Sco), A Cañizares (Esp), K Samooja (Fin), D Huizing (Ned), P Howard (Eng), M Fenasse (Fra), O Gillberg (am) (Swe),
74 M Ford (Eng), M Millar (Aus), M Lundberg (Swe), S Hutsby (Eng), J Janewattananond (Tha), Dermot McElroy (Nir), M Iten (Sui), A Haig (RSA), J Lima (Por), T Cocha (Arg), R Enoch (Wal), E Ferguson (Sco), R Green (Aus), T Sinnott (Aus), Cormac Sharvin (Nir)
75 F Fritsch (Ger), J Walters (RSA), J Girrbach (Sui), S Sharma (Ind), T Lewis (Eng),
76 R Echenique (Arg), M Giles (Aus), A Garcia-Heredia (Esp), J Carlsson (Swe), J Jeong (Kor), M Kim (Kor), E Di Nitto (Ita),
77 S Dyson (Eng), R Kellett (Sco), C Nilsson (Swe), L Vaisanen (Fin), P Maddy (Eng), M Madsen (Den),
78 J Fernandez-Valdes (Arg), N Holman (Aus), S Henry (Sco), G Porteous (Eng), C Del Moral (Esp), D Stewart (Sco), J Fahrbring (Swe),
79 A Meronk (Pol),
81 N Von Dellingshausen (Ger),
82 B Ritthammer (Ger).