NI OPEN: Early draw favours competitors

The draw certainly favoured the morning starters on the opening day of Northern Ireland Open Challenge in association with Maui Jim Sunglasses and a number of the ‘home’ players made the most of the opportunity, amongst them Jonathan Caldwell.

The 30-year-old, who finished tied for ninth in this event last year, has played sparingly this season but he is just three shots behind the leader, Joakim Lagergren, after an opening round 65.

“I haven’t played a lot, this is only my fourth event of the year,” said Jonny, who played alongside Rory McIlroy in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down

“It’s just too expensive. I’ve only played three Europro events but managed to do enough to get an invite into this one.

“The game is in good shape, I’m probably playing better than this time last year,” added the Clandeboye GC golfer who lost out in a three-way play-off on the Europro Tour earlier this month.

Lurgan’s Gareth Shaw made a positive start, compiling a composed round of four under 67.

Shaw’s game has been on an upward curve in recent weeks and some pre-tournament work on his putting paid dividends.

“To be honest, I felt pretty poor on the putting green this morning,” he said.

“I have tried about six putters in the last four days but returned to the one that I have had success with. The greens are perfect, so you have no excuse. If you get the speed right, the lines are pretty easy to see.”

Shaw went to the turn in one under 34, with birdies at the second and eighth offset by a dropped shot at the par four sixth. He collected three more birdies on the back nine at the 11th, 15th and 18th.

“I’m right up there just where you want to be, still five behind, but it’s only Thursday,” he added.

“I’m happy with my start and to finish with a birdie is nice.”

Four under was the same mark as amateur Dermot McElroy who headed straight to the range after his round to iron out some issues with the driver.

“It was a bit indifferent to be honest. On some holes I played nicely, but on others I drove the ball terrible,” said the Ballymena native who also finished tied ninth last year.

“I like the golf course, it suits my eye. I know I can string four rounds together.”