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By Paul Kelly

Michael Hoey carded his lowest ever competitive round at Galgorm Castle on a rain-interrupted first day of the Tayto NI Open in partnership with Ulster Bank.

The Tournament Ambassador fired a three under par round of 68 to put himself firmly on track to make the cut at the fourth time of asking.

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"I didn't play great but got it round okay. It's wasn't playing that difficult, it's soft and it's target golf," said Hoey.

"At least I'm not out of the tournament which I have been by this stage in recent years.

"Now I can relax and see what I can do over the next few days."

Torrential overnight rain forced play to be delayed by six hours yesterday which has left Challenge Tour officials with something of a logistical headache to get things back on track.

When play was eventually suspended for the day at 9pm, some 26 groups had still to finish their first round, amongst them local lads Dermot McElroy and Cormac Sharvin.

They face a long day ahead as they wrap up round one at 8.00am before heading out again to finish their second rounds from 11.00am.

Those players lucky enough to have completed their opening rounds yesterday will begin their second rounds in the afternoon and evening.

Hoey added: "There was a point there today when I was struggling a bit.

"I bogeyed the third and made a couple of poor swings but I dug in well, finished strongly, made some good swings and picked up three birdies in a row.

"I could easily have gone the other way if I hadn't dug in well, that was a big turning point," Hoey added.

The Belfast golfer's three under par total was matched by Whitehead amateur John Ross Galbraith (left) who collected four birdies and dropped only one shot in a strong performance.

"I drove the ball really well today. I think I only missed two fairways," said John Ross who missed out on defending his North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush because of a neck injury.

"I was driving it pretty long and straight so I was able to give myself opportunities going into the greens.

"My iron play wasn't bang on or I could have gone really, really low today," Galbraith added.

"I missed a few chances on the greens as well but overall it was a decent start."

There is a seven-way tie at the top of the leaderboard, with two Irishmen, Damien McGrane and Rory McNamara, joined by Sam Hutsby, Bernd Ritthammer, Ben Stow, Daniel Gaunt and Dylan Frittelli on six under par.

The experienced McGrane has effectively turned his back on the European Tour these days and is plying his trade with great success on the Irish PGA circuit.

He proved once again that he can still mix it with the young guns, carding a flawless six birdie round.

"I played lovely from start to finish, hit a lot of good tee shots and found the middle of the fairways," said McGrane who came into the tournament on the back of two recent victories on the Irish PGA circuit.

"I was able to be patient and holed a couple coming in to reach six under.

"It was a stress-free round which doesn't often happen but it happened today."

Belfast Telegraph

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