Old Conna's Neil O'Briain and Glasson's Colm Moriarty lead the race for four precious spots in next week's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at the magnificent Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort.
The duo mastered the fast and fiery conditions at the sun-baked Donegal resort, carding five-under 67s on the Sandy Hills Links to lead by a shot from former European Tour winner Simon Thornton, who now plays out of Tulfarris.
Waterville's David Higgins and Monkstown professional Cian McNamara shot four-under 68s to share fourth place on a day when the field averaged 77.83.
“The course is tricky, there is no doubt about it,” said Moriarty, who made seven birdies.
“It's breezy and it's hard to get the ball close to the hole. You have to get it on the fairway first of all but then you have to control your second shots into the greens because they are pretty firm with the spell of weather we've been having.”
The morning starters definitely had the best of the going on Saturday and that was reflected in the scoring with eight of the top 10 teeing off before 9 am.
However, Tullamore's Stuart Grehan signed for a two-under 70 to share sixth with Rory McNamara, Mark Staunton (who had eight birdies) and Robert Giles.
Mallow's James Sugrue was the best of the six amateurs nominated by the GUI, following up his brilliant 64 to win Local Qualifying for The Open by making seven birdies in a one-under 71.
Newlands' Jake Whelan is just a shot further back on level par.
“I played really nicely. I'm really happy with that,” said O'Briain, winner of the recent Slieve Russell Masters Pro-Am and the Rookie of the Year on the Sunshine Tour this year.
“You just have to accept that you are going to miss putts and get the odd bad bounce even if you play a good shot. I made a few bogeys today that didn't come from a bad shot, I just got a bad bounce and couldn't get it up and down.
“You have to place your ball off the tee and take the trouble out of the equation as best that you can without leaving yourself a long way into the greens.”
The four leading players after the conclusion of play on Sunday will each earn a place in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin with the winner collecting a first prize of €6000.
In the event of a tie for first place there will be a playoff, and if required, there will also be a playoff to decide fourth place.
The leaders will get underway at approximately 1.30pm.
Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Qualifier hosted by The Rory Foundation, Rosapenna Golf Hotel, Sandy Hills (Par 72)
67 Neil O’Briain, Colm Moriarty
68 Simon Thornton
69 David Higgins, Cian McNamara
70 Rory McNamara, Mark Staunton, Robert Giles, Stuart Grehan
71 Brian McElhinney, James Sugrue (AM)
72 Kevin Phelan, Conor O’Rourke, Jake Whelan (AM)
73 Dara Lernihan, John- Ross Galbraith, Jack Howard
74 Seamus Clinton, Niall Kearney, Brian O’Reilly, Seamus Duffy, Mark O’Sullivan, Brian Casey, Alec Myles
75 Alan Dunbar, Richard Kilpatrick, Brendan McCarroll, Joe Dillon, Michael McDermott, Adam Dunmore, Padraig Dooley, David Barry, Patrick Small
76 Michael O’Shea, Donal Gleeson, James Quinlivan, Andy Hogan, Leslie Walker, David Carey, Noel Murray, Peter Morgan, Paul O’Neill, Keith Shannon, Niall McGlynn, Conor Coyne, Richard Weldon
77 Michael McGeady, Ciaran Molloy, Glen Robinson, Stephen McCarthy, Andrew Peoples, Nicholas Grant
78 Harry Coyne, Shane Jenkinson, Sebastien McShane, Jimmy Bolger, Eoin O’Connor, Steven Quinlan, Michael Mulryan, Reece Black (AM), Bernard Quigley
79 Eric Byrne, Michael Alexander, Noel Callan, Thomas Minshull, Colm Crowley, Mark Whelan, Mark O’Mahony, Shaun Doherty
80 Peter Martin, Peter O’Hagan, Enda Maguire, David Hughes, Rob Brazill (AM), Daniel O’Connor, Jerry Scullion
81 Tim Rice, Gary Madden, Gary Wardlow, Mark Murphy, Brian Doheny, Ted Higgins, Raymond Ryan, Barry Davis
82 Damian Mooney, Daniel Brennan, Daniel Sugrue, David Allen, Andrew Owens, Patrick Geraghty, Josh Adams
83 Neil Graham
84 Matthew Cochrane, Alan Staunton, Daniel Crowley
85 Brendan Walton, Roy O’Neill
86 Matthew Dunmore, Shane Ryan
87 Brian Kerley, Karl Goodwin
88 Jamie Fletcher (AM)
89 Ronan Collins
WD Christopher Carvill, Ian Brennan, John Dignam, Eoin Gibbons, Ciaran Hegarty, Gregory Leech, Ruaidhri McGee, Philip McLaughlin, William Noble, Chris Selfridge, Cormac Sharvin
DQ Paul O’Connor, Donal Murphy, Wesley Ramsay
RTD Peter O’Keeffe (AM, 77 +5), Jack Hume (80 +8), Kieran James (81 +9), Padraig McGrath (81 +9), David Leathem (83 +11), Brian Jnr McCormack (83 +11), David Ruddy (85 +13), Shane Peacock (85 +13), Iarlaith Keane (89 +17), Gareth McCausland, James Wood, Scott Kirkpatrick, Diarmaid Frase