Mount Juliet’s Kevin Phelan was left to rue a late double bogey but he still made an eagle and four birdies to lead the Irish in the Modified Stableford format Bridgestone Challenge at Luton Hoo, Hotel Golf & Spa.
The Waterford native amassed seven points in the European Tour’s first event using the innovative system that awards seven points for an albatross, five for an eagle, two for a birdie, zero for a par, minus one for a bogey and minus three for a double bogey or worse.
Three bogeys and that late double added up to a 70 while his tally of seven points leaves him tied for 36th, nine points adrift of Switzerland’s Joel Girrbach, who shot 64 and made 16 points thanks to nine birdies and two bogeys.
Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy and Ardglass’ Cormac Sharvin are 10 points adrift as they made five birdies and four bogeys in matching 70s and accumulated six points to share 45th place.
McElroy had five birdies and four bogeys to rack six points and share 45th with Sharvin, who also had a 70 featuring five birdies and four bogeys.
Ruaidhri McGee (73) is tied 126th on minus one with Neil O’Briain (74) 135th on minus two.
Girrbach took full advantage of the new points system immediately by carding seven birdies (2 x 7) over the front nine – which took him to 13 points after one bogey (-1).
The 24-year old, who won his maiden professional title earlier this season at the Swiss Challenge presented by ASG, bagged two more gains over the back nine to sign for a 64 and a 16-point total.
With a one-point advantage over his nearest challenger James Maw, Girrbach was happy with his day’s work – but believes everything can quickly change in this new format.
“I have made an excellent start,” he said. “After beginning with five consecutive birdies everything else is a bit easier, and I tried to keep it going as best as I could.
“I played well. I made a lot of putts and I came close to going even lower, but I am delighted with the start I have made.
“I think the layout this week is really nice, it is just slightly weird to the eye without any bunkers, and with the wind picking up later today and the thick rough it did make things difficult.
“There were some very tough pins today, especially on the longer holes, and the fact that we played two par fives as par fours also made it very tricky at times.
“I think it is really key to make birdies this week – you really get something from it. With a birdie being worth two points and a bogey only losing you one point you can really gain from being aggressive.
“The first day is over now and there is a long way to go. My game feels great and I am hopeful on another good result after making such a good start.”
Also carding a 64 on day one in Luton was England’s Maw, but because he made one less birdie than Girrbach he finished the first round one point off the lead.
The 28-year-old is making just his second start on the Challenge Tour this season – and he was delighted to have made the most of his opportunity.
“I’m playing on an invite this week and pretty much everything went perfectly,” he said. “I hit it really well off of the tee and my putting was great too.
“I played a qualifier for the event earlier this year so I have had some experience of playing the format. It is good fun as you can be really aggressive, but likewise it can also change very quickly.
“This is definitely uncharted waters for me, I am sure I’ll be nervous tomorrow, and hopefully I can keep performing as well as I did today.”
Also in contention after 18 holes in the south of England is France’s Julien Guerrier – the Road to Oman Number Five sits on 14 points after his own round of 64.
Sweden’s Oscar Lengden, who finished a career-best tied fifth at last week’s D+D REAL Czech Masters, carried on his excellent recent form with a bogey-free 65 and a 12-point total.
Bridgestone Challenge at Luton Hoo, Hotel Golf & Spa
16 J Girrbach (Sui),
15 J Maw (Eng),
14 J Guerrier (Fra),
13 C Blomstrand (Swe), J Ahlers (RSA), T Linard (Fra), N Von Dellingshausen (Ger),
12 O Lengden (Swe), B Neil (Sco), B Evans (Eng), J Bower (Eng), C Ford (Eng), J Allan (Eng), M Laskey (Wal),
11 R Dinwiddie (Eng), S Heisele (Ger), T Pilkadaris (Aus),
10 R Saxton (Ned), D Fox (Aus), J Hansen (Den), R McCarthy (Aus),
9 M Schwab (Aut), J Doherty (Sco), F Laporta (Ita), S Brown (Eng), B Virto (Esp), M Nixon (Eng),
8 R Kellett (Sco), N Marsh (Eng), J McLeary (Sco), B Eccles (Aus), P Roos (Fin), H Rönneblad (Swe), C Mivis (Bel), R Davies (Wal),
7 M Ford (Eng), N Geyger (Chi), M Orrin (Eng), J Dantorp (Swe), Kevin Phelan (Irl), J Parry (Eng), A Pavan (Ita), T Pulkkanen (Fin), N Ravano (Ita),
6 Dermot McElroy (Nir), J Rutherford (Eng), D Van Driel (Ned), S Jeppesen (Swe), O Wilson (Eng), M Simonsen (Den), M Lafeber (Ned), J Abbott (Eng), Cormac Sharvin (Nir), A Wennstam (Swe), M Lundberg (Swe), R Finch (Eng), J Sjöholm (Swe), W Besseling (Ned), D Brown (am) (Eng),
5 Z Felder (Sui), P Gal (Cze), J Makitalo (Fin), M Cort (Eng), M Baldwin (Eng), J Mullen (Eng), V Riu (Fra), M Lampert (Ger), F Mruzek (Cze), J Sarasti (Esp), R McEvoy (Eng),
4 R Sciot-Siegrist (Fra), C Lloyd (Eng), E Van Rooyen (RSA), A Zemmer (Ita), E Ferguson (Sco), T Perrot (Fra), T Murray (Eng), J Adarraga Gomez (Esp), N Johansson (Swe), R Evans (Eng), A Turner (Eng),
3 A Tadini (Ita), L Johnson (Eng), P Hendriksen (Eng), B Poke (Den), M Fenasse (Fra), F Bergamaschi (Ita), S Hutsby (Eng), M Schneider (Ger), D Dixon (Eng), S Khan (Eng), S Towndrow (Eng), J Lando Casanova (Fra), R Enoch (Wal), G King (Eng), E Di Nitto (Ita),
2 R Hjelm (Den), G Boyd (Eng), P Maddy (Eng), O Farr (Wal), B Hellgren (Swe), M Trappel (Aut), B Robinson (Eng), G Porteous (Eng), K Kulokorpi (Fin), A Velasco (Esp),
1 L Gagli (Ita), K Hesbois (Bel), T Shadbolt (Eng), J Garcia Pinto (Esp), D Law (Sco), V Perez (Fra), C Del Moral (Esp), S Edwards (Eng), D Huizing (Ned), J Senior (Eng), D Gaunt (Aus),
0 M Dobias (Sui), M Wiegele (Aut), K Eriksson (Swe), J Wrisdale (Eng), D Foos (Ger), L Robinson (Eng), C Braeunig (Ger), G Petrozzi (am) (Eng),
-1 K Johannessen (Nor), C Aronsen (Nor), N Lindstrom (Swe), P Archer (Eng), F Daux (Fra), M Galiano Aguilar (Esp), H Joannes (Bel), P Howard (Eng), Ruaidhri McGee (Irl),
-2 T Coulson (Eng), G Schoeb (Fra), J Heath (Eng), S Fernandez (Esp), S Maisey (Wal), M Kinhult (Swe), P Tarver-Jones (Eng), Neil O'Briain (Irl), J Kunzenbacher (Ger), O Stark (Swe), J Hilleard (am) (Eng),
-3 T Lawrence (RSA), Chris Selfridge (Nir),
-4 R James (Wal), J Burnage (am) (Eng),
-5 M Delpodio (Ita), H Yamac (Tur),
-7 C Griffiths (Eng),
-8 F Maccario (Ita),
-11 J Friesz (Svk),
WD M Søgaard (Den),
RETD S Connor (Eng),