Tournament ambassador Michael Hoey has some work to do to make up ground on the leaders after the opening round of the Galgorm Resort and Spa NI Open, presented by Modest! Golf.
Hoey’s one-under-par 70 left him six shots behind the leaders, 17-year-old Minkyu Kim from South Korea and 39-year-old Welshman Stuart Manley, who fired a pair of 64s.
“It was very average today, bit disappointing,” said Hoey, who still performed better than playing partners Oliver Wilson (+3) and defending champion Robin Sciot-Siegrist (+4). “I got a little bit of luck on 17, a nice bounce in for my second shot then hit driver off the deck on 18, which I haven’t hit before with that club. I don’t think my caddie knew that. Into the wind, I said I would give it a go. Hit it perfect and reached the second bunker left with easy enough bunker shot.
“The finish gives me a better position. I would have been gutted if I had finished over par because I’m swinging it better than that.
Hoey’s round included three birdies and two pars but he admitted he struggled to get going.
“This game’s all about focus. I mean you seen Tiger last Sunday. You get that focus and you always want more of it,” added Michael. “Tomorrow morning is always a good opportunity. This course is always there for the taking. You can have a lot of short irons if you drive it well.”
Following one victory, two top-five finishes and two further top-ten results this season, Manley is sixth in the Challenge Tour rankings and knows he is well-placed to regain his European Tour playing rights – something another good result could all but guarantee his return this week.
“It would be great to get the job done this week,” he said. “It has been a very successful and consistent season so far so it would be great to get a couple more big finishes and secure my card for next year.
“I putted very well, kept the ball in play and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to play today so I’m very happy with my start.
“I have been struggling with my neck since Saturday but credit to the European Tour’s physio team as without them I wouldn’t have been able to play for sure.”
Also impressing on his first visit to Northern Ireland was Kim. The 17-year-old, who became the youngest player to win on the Challenge Tour following his victory in the D+D REAL Czech Challenge in May, carded one eagle, six birdies and one bogey and was delighted to return to form following a difficult stretch.
“I played very well today,” said Kim who is currently 34th in the rankings. “I putted very well and I was perfect off of the tee until the last two holes where on 17 and 18 I missed the fairway by a long way, but I still managed to come away with a bogey and a par. It wasn’t a great finish but overall I am very happy with my performance today.
“After winning in the Czech Republic I have struggled to find form, but this week I am feeling really focused and so far that has shown in my play.”
Ardglass golfer, Cormac Sharvin, is the leading Irish player on four under par.