Swede Joakim Lagergren got the second edition of the Northern Ireland Open Challenge in association with Maui Jim Sunglasses off to an explosive start, soaring to a course-record nine under par 62 to take a two-shot lead on day one.
The 22 year old threatened the magic number of 59 when he negotiated his opening 15 holes in eight under par with a par five to play on the par 71 lay-out.
He did birdie the ninth, his last hole having teed off at the tenth, and while he could not create history as the second player to shoot sub-60 on the Challenge Tour, his bogey-free opening round was enough to set a new record low round at the wonderfully-presented Galgorm Castle.
On a day when 4,429 people filed through the gates the crowds were treated to a mixed bag weather-wise, the course bathing in sunshine for the vast majority of the day but a heavy shower causing a 47-minute delay in play mid-way through the afternoon.
Lagergren was lucky enough to avoid that inconvenience and he was delighted to get off to such a strong start in perfect conditions, playing alongside local crowd favourite, promising amateur Dermot McElroy.
“You can’t start any better than this,” said the Stockholm player, whose stepfather Ola Eliasson is a former European Tour player.
“I’ve been playing really well the last couple of weeks but the putting hasn’t really been going good and I holed a few putts today which gave me momentum.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the birdies I was making, I was just playing today. I wasn’t even sure how many under par I was but when you get on a roll like that you just don’t want to stop. You just don’t think about the scoring, you just keep hitting those good shots.
“I holed a few 15 to 20-foot putts today so that’s a real bonus. Hopefully it will be a good week. It really feels like a proper European Tour tournament, we had a small crowd with us all day today because I played with Dermot and it was really good fun.
“The crowds definitely boost me, it’s really nice that they come out to watch the local guys and I was lucky to have played with him.
“I didn’t really think about the 59. I actually missed a short birdie putt on my second last hole, the eighth, from around five feet. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
“Usually you get that buzz and adrenalin of a 59 when you’re six or seven under but I didn’t think about it at all today. Anything can happen over the next three days. I was hitting good shots today, and every course is easy when you do that, but if you’re not hitting good shots out there the course is not easy.
Anthony Snobeck of France was two shots back on seven under par after signing for a 64 which included two eagles, one of which came at the driveable par four second to get his round going early on.
Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell is the best placed of the home players following a six under par 65 which left him in joint third place alongside England’s Steven Brown.
Tournament ambassador, Michael Hoey, has some ground to make up after carding a level par 71.
The weather delay interrupted the five-time tour winner just after he eagled the ninth to go to three under and he struggled to regain his momentum on the resumption of play.
“It was a disaster after the turn, just lost my concentration basically,” said the 35 year old, who missed the cut at the Ballymena venue last year.
“I was in a good bit of rhythm before it and just lost my concentration. I was fighting towards the end and at least I’ve given myself a chance to get into a position tomorrow.
“I was looking at missing the cut but I played the last well, got a nice little bounce in, I didn’t get too many breaks today but got a nice kick there to put it close and an eagle gives me a chance now.
“I haven’t been too sharp, the wind was strong and I was trying to hit come soft shots in and I just hit them too hard over the back, misjudgements really but I felt the putter was good on the front nine so I just have to keep at it tomorrow.
“It was miserable at times for the crowd out there, we were all making bogeys so it wasn’t a great atmosphere. But I started birdie-birdie which was good and then had a good crowd on the ninth for the eagle so I pleased a few people there. Hopefully I’ll get lucky with the weather in the morning.”