Kearney leads Irish quartet at Asian Tour Q-School
 Niall Kearney. Picture: Getty Images

Niall Kearney. Picture: Getty Images

Royal Dublin's Niall Kearney was the best of the four-strong Irish contingent after the opening round at the First Stage of the Asian Tour Qualifying School in Thailand.

The former Walker Cup player and two-time Irish Professional champion (29) made three birdies and two bogeys in a one-under 70 to share 18th place at Rayong Green Valley Country Club in Bangkok, one of four First Stage venues.

Limerick's Tim Rice, the reigning Irish Professional champion, is tied 65th after a three-over 74 at the same venue, where the top 35 after four rounds will qualify for next week's 90-hole Final Stage.

Rice bogeyed his final hole but a 74 was not a bad return considering a triple bogey seven at the 15th, his sixth hole, left him on five-over.

Black Bush assistant professional Stephen McCarthy, now fully qualified and looking to play more competitive golf this year, was four-over-par after just four holes but fought back to shoot a three-over 74 and finish the day tied for 55th at St Andrews 2000 where 36 players will qualify.

Headfort's Rory McNamara was two-under par through 12 holes at Windsor Park and Golf Club. But the former West of Ireland winner made an eight at the par-five 13th and followed a birdie four at the 16th with two bogeys to post a two-over 73 that leaves him two shots outside the top 20 who will progress.

The Irish challengers are among 346 players from more than 35 countries attempting to qualify for the Final Stage from January 10- 14 where the top-35 and ties after 90 holes will earn playing rights on the Asian Tour for 2018.

Muskerry's Niall Turner is already guaranteed some starts as he has a partial medical exemption.

Asian Tour Qualifying School, First Stage

St. Andrews 2000 (Par 71, 36 to qualify) 

  • Scores
  • 1 Josh YOUNGER (AUS) 64 -7
  • 55 Stephen MCCARTHY (IRL) 74  +3

Rayong Green Valley Country Club, Rayon (Par 71, 35 to qualify)

  • Scores
  • 1 Jeremy WENDELKEN (USA)  65     -6
  • 18 Niall KEARNEY (IRL) 70 -1
  • 65 Tim RICE (IRL) 74 +3

Windsor Park & Golf Club (Par 71, 20 to qualify)

  • Scores
  • 1 Han LEE (USA) 64 -7
  • 37 Rory MCNAMARA (IRL) 73 +2

Silky Oak Country Club, Rayong (Par 71, 12 to qualify)

  • Scores
  • 1 Ben CRANCER (USA) 65 -6