Simon Thornton is probably the least known of the nine-man Irish raiding party at the Wales Open, but he carded the best first-round score yesterday as he recorded a three-under-par 68 at Celtic Manor.
The 33-year-old English-born assistant pro at Royal County Down benefited from correcting a swing fault last week to atone for missing three halfway cuts over the last three weeks.
“I was just getting slack from playing too much and not thinking of what I was doing. It has been a case of getting back to square one,” said Thornton, who has had an Irish passport for several years.
Graeme McDowell, hot off fourth place at last week's Madrid Masters, could manage only a one-over-par 72, marred mainly by a double-bogey at the short 13th.
“I didn't really enjoy the greens too much. They had a good surface, but they were a bit slow and they ran terribly. I made nothing,” said McDowell.
Tournament favourite Luke Donald, winner in Madrid and second at Wentworth a week earlier, soared to a 75. Chris Wood led after a 65.
Darren Clarke showed a welcome burst of form, three birdies on the last four holes giving him a 69.
Gareth Maybin, who has recovered from a minor wrist problem which forced him out last week and Damien McGrane played together and also shot 69, both with three birdies and one bogey on their cards.
l Alan Dunbar has travelled back to the home of golf this weekend to defend the St Andrews Links Trophy.
The Portrush youngster has already made his mark this season by winning the Irish Open Strokeplay at Royal Dublin last month and the 20-year-old will launch his assault for more honours today in purposeful mood.