Hoey and Maybin shine at Ryder venue
Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley could not have chosen a more fitting place or time to display the finer points of his game than at Gleneagles.
Belfast's Michael Hoey reproduced the form which won last month's Russian Open, while Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin also showed his class.
Exactly a week before the race begins for places on the European team McGinley will lead into action against the US at this scenic Scottish venue, the Dubliner gave an expert lesson in how to play the PGA Centenary Course.
The accomplished four under par 68 McGinley posted in the first round of the Johnnie Walker Classic left him tied 14th overnight with his young playing companion Shane Lowry and as well as Hoey and Maybin.
Hoey, his Ryder Cup ambitions sharpened by last month's victory in Moscow, got straight back into the same ball-striking groove.
Maybin, from Ballyclare, will be delighted to be bang in contention.
They were three off the blistering pace set by leaders Berndt Wiesberger, 28, of Austria and Argentina's Ricardo Gonzalez, 43.
Wiesberger's faultless 65 suggested he may be ready to go one step further this week at Gleneagles than in 2011, when he reached a five-man play-off ultimately won by Thomas Bjorn.
McGinley has shot lower in a season disrupted by injury and dominated by Ryder Cup duties – he opened with 67 at last month's Scottish Open on his way to a share of 22nd place and €35,050, his biggest cheque in 2013.
Yet the finesse he showed yesterday was right out of the top drawer, especially on the few occasions McGinley strayed a little off course.
After leaving himself with a tap-in to save par with a deft escape of a cavernous greenside trap at 12, McGinley produced the piece de resistance at 14, where he holed-out from the sand for the most spectacular of his five birdies.
The diminutive Irishman didn't see his ball drop on that occasion. It appeared as if he was too busy sweeping sand back into place with his feet in the pot bunker to be bothered following the path of his ball.
Yet McGinley showed his wicked sense of humour afterwards as he explained why he hadn't looked up.
"If you were my height, you wouldn't see most bunker shots go in either," he laughed.
"There was a big lip on that bunker so there was no way I could see it go in."
Having the chance to help set up the golf course for its last professional tournament before next year's Ryder Cup didn't do McGinley any harm.
"I enjoyed the course today," he said. "I enjoyed the fact the rough wasn't as severe as it has been in previous times.
"There were a lot of run-offs around the green, which we really haven't experienced here before, while the course is a lot drier than it has been in the past."
The Centenary has endured criticism in the past, notably from Ulsterman Darren Clarke, who said it wasn't even the best course on the Gleneagles estate.
Yet it looked and played differently yesterday.
"There were a lot of positive things about the course," McGinley said, adding with a smile: "Certainly it fitted my eye. Whether it's going to suit the players at the Ryder Cup is another question."
Lowry started brilliantly under the Ryder Cup captain's gaze, playing his first four holes in four-under as he followed an eagle three at the second with back-to-back birdies.
The Offaly man might have gone lower than 68 had his putter behaved as well as McGinley's, while he was unlucky not to chip-in for eagle three at the last.
Lowry hit an exquisite shot which zeroed in on the hole before brushing off the pin and wide.