Hoey and Meadow lead Irish challenges in Vic Open
Stephanie Meadow ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Stephanie Meadow ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

James Nitties had a world-record equalling nine birdies in a row, but his eight-under 64 still left him two adrift of Nick Flanagan on a positive day for the Irish in the opening round of the $3 million ISPS Handa Vic Open.

The event is unique in the game as the men and women play concurrent events for equal prize money over the Creek and Beach Courses at 13th Beach Golf Club near Melbourne.

Men’s leaderboard

Women’s leaderboard

With Chris Selfridge on his bag, Michael Hoey shot a bogey-free six-under 66 on the Beach Course to lead the Irish challenge in the men's event with Paul Dunne tied 65th after a 69 there.

On the Creek Course, Gavin Moynihan kept a bogey off his card as he opened with a five-under 67 to share 32nd as Portmarnock amateur Conor Purcell fought back from three-over through nine holes to post a level par 72 that leaves him tied 128th.

In the corresponding LPGA Tour event, Stephanie Meadow got her season off to a good start with a three-under 70 on the Creek Course.

That left her tied for 22nd, five strokes behind England's Felicity Johnson, whose eight-under 65 on the same track (the 18th is a par-five for the women and a par-four for the men) gave her a two-shot lead over American Kim Kaufman, Canada's Anne-Catherine Tanguay and Australia's Su Oh.

Leona Maguire played the tougher Beach Course and ended the day tied for 97th after a one-over 73 to lie two shots outside the top 60 and ties who will make the 36-hole cut and play the Beach Course at the weekend.

There is also a top 60 cut in the men's event before a second cut to the top 35 and ties after 54 holes for both fields.

Australia's Flanagan shot a 10-under 62 on the easier Creek Course to lead the men's event by two shots from a six-man group featuring Nitties, fellow Australians James Anstiss and Jason Scrivener, American Kurt Kitayama, Chile's Hugo Leon and England's Callum Shinkwin.

But Nitties stole the show as his nine-in-a-row birdie run at the Beach Course equalled Mark Calcavecchia's 10-year old record set in the 2009 RBC Canadian Open.

Nick Flanagan. Picture: Getty Images

Nick Flanagan. Picture: Getty Images

After starting with a birdie at the 10th, he double-bogeyed the 14th but then reeled off nine birdies in a row from the 15th to the fifth before finishing with four pars.

"Yeah, pumped," Nitties beamed. "I don't hold any other world records that I know of, so to be a part of one is pretty cool. Had a good chance for that 10th birdie, but I didn't want to break it. It's such a longstanding record, I wouldn't do that to Mark, so it's good to hold it with him."

The good-humoured Australian reckons he now holds the record for the world's best bounce back from a double bogey.

"Definitely have the world record for best bounce-back stat because if I holed the nine birdies and I preceded it with a double bogey," he joked.

"No, it was a good way to turn around a double bogey. I was a little peeved-off that I made double from the middle of the fairway and followed up with a couple of birdies and then rattled off about seven or eight more is pretty special. "

I am looking to build off something this week to get this season kick-started
— Paul Dunne

Hoey showed form in the off-season, playing with former US President George W Bush in Florida before having a hole-in-one en route to mini-tour win in Portugal.

He also started on the back nine at the Beach Course, making birdies at the 10th, 12th, 15th, 16th, second and third to sign for a 66 and share 15th place.

Dunne made his first cut of the season in Saudi Arabia last week after missing out in Abu Dhabi and Dubai but attribute his struggle to take good practice form to the golf course to rustiness.

"It's very linksy looking," he said of the Beach Course during his opening 69. "The greens are a little softer than I was expecting, but in general it's a beautiful course, and you couldn't ask for better weather either."

The Greystones man birdied the fifth, missed a three-footer for par at the sixth but then tapped in for birdie at the 10th, then birdied the 15th and par-five 18th to break 70 and end the day tied for 65th.

He hopes to take advantage of the easier Creek Course today in a unique event where the men and women alternate tees times and the crowds follow behind on the fairways.

"I just didn't score very well," Dunne said of his first three starts of the year. "I felt that I was practising better than I was playing, which is frustrating. I guess it's just lack of sharpness, not having played for seven weeks. But I am looking to build off something this week to get this season kick-started really.

"I guess the other course is the scoring course but what's unique about the event is men and women playing together, or one in front of the other, which is a cool idea. It definitely sets the tournament apart."

Moynihan birdied the 10th, 12th, 13th, 16th and ninth at the Creek Course to share 32nd after his 67 but Purcell has work to do after a level par 72 left him tied 127th.

Starting on the back nine at the Creek Course, he birdied 10t but then bogeyed the 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th before bouncing back well with birdies at the first, third and seventh.

Meadow can be pleased with her first LPGA Tour round since graduating from the Symetra Tour last year.

Playing the Creek Course, she hit 15 greens in regulation and followed a birdie-bogey-birdie start with further birdies at the par-three 12th and the par-five 18th in a 30-putt round.

The tournament was first played in 1957 on the men’s Australian golfing circuit, but it was 2012 when the event took on a much greater significance by breaking new ground and playing the Women’s Victorian Open simultaneously at the same venue.

Seven years later and the event is arguably even stronger, with the European Tour and LPGA Tour on board, splitting the $3 million purse.