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Ulsterman Hoey savours his best ever round as he leads way in Italy

 

By Phil Casey

Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey threatened to record the first 59 in European Tour history before settling for a share of the lead on a low-scoring opening day of the Rocco Forte Open in Sicily.

Hoey fired eight birdies in his first 11 holes at Verdura Golf Club and after a run of four straight pars, another birdie on the eighth left him needing to play his final two holes - having started from the 11th - in three under.

A superb approach to the par-five ninth left Hoey with a 20-foot putt for eagle, but the 38-year-old left his attempt short and did the same with a birdie putt on the last.

The resulting 10-under-par 61 was still the lowest round of Hoey's career and took him alongside Sweden's Sebastian Soderberg at the top of the leaderboard, with South Africa's Zander Lombard a shot behind.

"I left it in the jaws, both putts, but I was nervous," admitted Hoey, who has won five times on the European Tour but lost his card last year. "It was hard to hit them past the hole but it's nice to be nervous as I haven't been nervous on a course for a while and it's exciting to have such a good score. My best ever score by two shots, no bogeys, it doesn't get much better.

"We've had two kids (since 2013) and it's been tiring. I haven't been as healthy as I wanted, so hopefully I can get going."

Spain's Alvaro Quiros was in a tie for fourth after a 63 which included a hole-in-one on the 13th, while Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn was four shots off the lead despite a flawless 65.

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