Dermot McElroy is well poised to make another assault on the North of Ireland Amateur Open title at Royal Portrush after an intriguing opening day of the championship yesterday.
The Ballymena man came in with a five under par 67 on the Valley Links in the first qualifying round played in glorious sunshine on the north coast.
But despite the perfect conditions the players battling on the tougher Dunluce Links struggled to match that kind of scoring with only two players managing to better par over the track which hosted last year's highly successful Irish Open.
They were Castleblaney's Colin Wilton, who came in with an opening effort of 70 for two under and Alan Stevens from Spa who hit just one shot more.
Nobody managed to come in with a level par 72 with five men Ryan Gordon from Donaghadee, Knock's Glenn Managh, from Old Conna, Andrew Montgomery from Old Conna, Eoghan Long from Monkstown and Francis McGinn from Ballycastle all in the group on one over.
That's eight shots off the pace set by Castlerock's Aaron Kearney who covered the Valley course in seven under with an opening 65 to take the outright lead going into today's second qualifying round.
McElroy, runner-up to Rathmore's Alan Dunbar a couple of years ago, is in a seven strong group on five under.
Conditions for scoring are likely to be good again for today's second round, but the disparity of scoring over the first round makes for an interesting day ahead as the players scramble to make the top 64 going through to the matchplay stages.
And a few well-known names may struggle to make it into the later stages of the tournament. Belvoir Park's Harry Diamond could manage only a 76 over the Valley links yesterday, a score matched by Dunmurry's Stephen Crowe.
Royal Portrush's Patrick McCrudden, who like McElroy and Dunbar, played last year's Irish Open, will need a good round over the Dunluce Links after managing two over on the Valley.