A four under opening round of 67 at the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final has kept Gareth Maybin’s hopes of claiming the Challenge Tour’s Order of Merit title well and truly alive in Italy.
The Ballyclare golfer, who is already guaranteed his place on the European Tour by securing his spot in the top twenty on the money list, started the final event of the season in fourth place, €20,000 behind current leader David Horsey.
The Englishman, though remains favourite to take the number one ranking with him to the European Tour as he opened with a two under 69 at the San Domenico club in Puglia.
South African Branden Grace and Scotland’s Greig Hutcheon lead going into today’s second round on six under with Maybin tied for seventh.
Hutcheon went into the final event in 33rd place on the money list but a win in the elite event would catapult him into the top twenty.
It wasn’t, though, a good day for Belfast’s Michael Hoey who needs at least a top three finish this week if he is to have any chance of regaining his card.
He shot an opening two over 73 to lie in joint 41st place overnight, eight shots off the lead.
But as this is an elite field limited to just the leading 45 players on the Challenge Tour, there is no cut which at least can work in his favour if he can turn it around.
Derryman Michael McGeady, who really needs to win if he is to avoid another trip to qualifying school, opened with a level par 71.
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy has welcomed the chance to play against the top Americans if they decide to join in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai next season.
The Holywood player is the only Ulsterman playing in this week’s Mallorca Masters, the penultimate event on this year’s calendar.
McIlroy will make his first trip to the Singapore Open, one of the first events on the Race to Dubai list of tournaments.
And there he will rub shoulders with Padraig Harrington, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els who have all confirmed their entry.
The extra money coming into the European Tour next year has prompted several top Americans to consider playing on both sides of the Atlantic.
And McIlroy says the Race to Dubai will close the gap between the two tours.
“'I think the gap between the European Tour and the PGA Tour is very small now,' he said.
“And with the Race to Dubai and the massive prize fund that comes along with that, it'll bring a few guys from the States over here.”
The young Ulsterman who has just broken into the world’s top hundred for the first time says he is delighted by how his first full season on tour has worked out.
“I've had more ups than downs this season. I've achieved all my goals I set for myself and hopefully a win is just around the corner.
“If I'm in the limelight I'm obviously doing good things.
“Singapore will be an experience and it’s a great field playing and so it'll be a great opportunity for me to test myself against some of the best players in the world.”
McIlroy is one of the earlier starters at 7.45am today.