Paul Dunne birdied his last two holes to open with a level par 73 in the Trophée Hassan II.
The Greystones star was two-over-par playing the eighth at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat but picked up a shot there before making a two at the par-three ninth to share 35th after the first round.
As 2012 champion Michael Hoey posted a three-over 76 to end the day tied 88th, three-time European Tour winner Grégory Havret and his French compatriot Gary Stal shot three-under 70s to tie at the top with Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard and Englishman James Morrison.
Despite benign conditions at the regal Moroccan venue, only 34 players managed to register an under par score, with former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari – one of two players to card a bogey-free round on day one - and multiple European Tour winners Grégory Bourdy and Alex Levy among those leading the chasing pack on two under.
While Stal, Havret and Morrison all have European Tour victories under their belts, Bjerregaard is the only leader searching for a maiden title – having come agonisingly close at the 2015 UBS Hong Kong Open only to lose out to a Major winner in last week’s Masters Tournament runner-up Justin Rose.
“I played really well today. My driving was good, my irons were really good and my putting was okay. The course is hard though - if you miss a shot, you will pay the penalty. It's good to get off to a good start so I’m very happy.”
“It’s good to play under par, anything in the red here is very good on a very tough course, so I’m happy. Even par is a good score. This course always plays hard and since the changes a few years ago it’s even harder.
“When the wind is changing it’s not easy to find the right club. It’s in perfect condition, the course is just in great shape and we always enjoy it here. It’s definitely a test of golf.
“I think it’s one of the toughest all season. There’s a little bit of a wind but nothing silly like you can have sometimes here.
“It’s always nice to come back from a break and play well. The Tshwane Open in South Africa was good, I played well also there. India was good too and it’s a good round of golf today too. I’ll just keep going and take things one after the other and see what happens.”
“I played well today, a lot of positives to take from it. Obviously it’s a little hard coming from a five week break, not really sure where my game was exactly.
“I’ve been playing alright at home but it’s a little different when you come out here so to see some of the things that I saw out there today was really nice.
“I hit four bad shots that really cost me and obviously missing a short birdie putt at 18 hurts a little bit but a lot of positives. I played some of the best golf I’ve played in a very long time so it was really nice.
“I’ve been driving it really well today and that helps around here. IF you miss the fairway you’re in trouble. I hit one bad drive and that cost me a bogey but other than that I hit a lot of fairways and when you do that you have a lot of eights, nines and wedges in and I took advantage of that.
“It’s definitely one of the toughest courses we play. You can see by the scores, that tells the whole story. It’s really tough, the greens are not very big and they’re firming up a bit compared to earlier in the week. It’s in great condition but if you miss the fairway you’re chipping out most of the time.
“I think about that weekend in Hong Kong (in 2015, losing to Justin Rose) every once in a while but not that much but it was great to watch the battle at the Masters. It was more a feeling of wanting to be there than anything else.
“Justin is a nice guy but I have to say I cheered a little bit for Sergio, it was incredible to see two Europeans battle it out like that, it was fun.
“The way it happened that week, two of us pulling away from the field a little bit, like match play, it was special. Obviously it hurt that I didn’t win but it was fun to compete against a guy like him and, like on Sunday, he’s got so much class and he’s such a nice guy, so it was a lot of fun.”
“It's a proper, good golf course which is fantastic to play. You've got to be on your game, hit it straight, if you do get it in trouble you've got to get out of trouble well and I think had a mix of playing well today, hitting the right shots at the right time, and scrambling pretty well, too.
“I'm enjoying my golf at the moment, I'm working hard at it, everything is coming off. I'm playing well, I'm thinking smart so I'll just keep on doing it. It's my eighth year on Tour and I'm still enjoying playing every week.”
“I teed off on ten and on that nice I hit the ball very solidly, hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens and then on this nine I had a couple of poor tee shots on three and six but I was able to save par both times, so it was very solid.
“This golf course as soon as you’re out of position there’s no way you can hit the green so it was good to hit it well off the tee and give myself a lot of chances.
“It was good to have a break and to work a little bit on the game. Coming in, my game wasn’t as good as I was hoping but I had some good sessions in the last couple of days and today I felt very comfortable out there.
“Obviously the last two seasons were very disappointing and I’ve gone back to the same guy I worked with in 2009-2011 when I had my best seasons. We’re trying to work on the same things and it’s not as consistent as I would like yet but I’ve seen some great signs so hopefully I can keep going in this direction.”
70 G Stal (Fra), J Morrison (Eng), L Bjerregaard (Den), G Havret (Fra),
71 J Van Zyl (RSA), T Fisher Jnr (RSA), G Bourdy (Fra), A Levy (Fra), P Edberg (Swe), D Frittelli (RSA), C Sordet (Fra), M Orrin (Eng), E Molinari (Ita),
72 A Rai (Eng), R Rock (Eng), D Drysdale (Sco), M Manassero (Ita), P Larrazábal (Esp), R Wattel (Fra), D Stewart (Sco), R Johnson (Swe), M Ilonen (Fin), J Winther (Den), B Evans (Eng), T Detry (Bel), M Pavon (Fra), M Foster (Eng) , S Manley (Wal) , S Heisele (Ger) , M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) , N Bertasio (Ita) , A Cañizares (Esp) , A Karlsson (Swe) , S Jamieson (Sco)
73 D Howell (Eng), D Horsey (Eng), V Dubuisson (Fra), J Edfors (Swe), E Pepperell (Eng), J Dantorp (Swe), N Elvira (Esp), D Brooks (Eng), A Otaegui (Esp), S Soderberg (Swe), R Paratore (Ita), A Chesters (Eng), J Fahrbring (Swe), A Saddier (Fra), J Smith (Eng), R Echenique (Arg), J Quesne (Fra), Paul Dunne (Irl),
74 J Campillo (Esp), P Waring (Eng), M Korhonen (Fin), L Canter (Eng), A Wall (Eng), R Bland (Eng), C Hanson (Eng), L Slattery (Eng), M Nixon (Eng), R Gonzalez (Arg), D Im (USA), R Jacquelin (Fra), D Perrier (Fra), R Ramsay (Sco)
75 E Compton (USA), P Widegren (Swe), J Carlsson (Swe), A Knappe (Ger), C Pigem (Esp), W Ormsby (Aus), J Walters (RSA), R Karlberg (Swe), L Jensen (Den), H Otto (RSA), T Lewis (Eng), B Hebert (Fra), J Luiten (Ned), S Tiley (Eng), R Gouveia (Por), J Lagergren (Swe), B Stone (RSA), M Southgate (Eng), A Marshall (Eng), R McEvoy (Eng), M Siem (Ger),
76 J Guerrier (Fra), G King (Eng), F Serghini (Mar), G Porteous (Eng), F Fritsch (Ger), R Sterne (RSA), J Stalter (Fra), C Paisley (Eng), C Shinkwin (Eng), R Dinwiddie (Eng), R Saxton (Ned), Michael Hoey (Nir), Z Lombard (RSA), M Armitage (Eng), A Lguirati (am) (Mar),
77 R Langasque (Fra), A Marjan (Mar), R Green (Aus), H Porteous (RSA), S Gros (Fra), E De La Riva (Esp), T Bjørn (Den), N Colsaerts (Bel), O Fisher (Eng), Y El Hassani (Mar), J Heath (Eng), J Wang (Kor), J Lima (Por), P Maddy (Eng), D Boshart (Ned), T Linard (Fra), B Ritthammer (Ger), J Donaldson (Wal), R Karlsson (Swe),
78 D Burmester (RSA), J Rutherford (Eng), F Aguilar (Chi), N Holman (Aus), N Fasth (Swe), S Gallacher (Sco), C Hinton (Eng), S Walker (Eng), A Id-Omar (am) (Mar),
79 Y Yang (Kor), S Dyson (Eng), P Angles (Esp), S Henry (Sco),
80 M Kieffer (Ger), A Björk (Swe), N Kimsey (Eng), J Parry (Eng), A Sabi (Mar),
81 J Ahlers (RSA), R Finch (Eng), M Weir (Can),
82 S Luna (Esp), Y Touhami (Mar) ,