Manley plays through pain to join Kim in NI Open lead
The unique appeal of the Challenge Tour was perfectly illustrated by the two names topping the leaderboard at the close of play on day one of the Galgorm Resort and Spa NI Open, presented by Modest! Golf.
Success on this tour is a stepping stone, a bridge to potential riches on the European Tour, and so it brings together hungry young tyros searching for their first taste of the big time and more established players hoping to return to the summit.
At the close of play yesterday, 17-year-old Minkyu Kim from South Korea and 39-year-old Welsh journeyman Stuart Manley led the way on seven-under par.
Behind them on six-under par was 41-year-old Richard Finch, a winner of the Irish Open in 2008, Marcus Armitage (31), who played on the European Tour in 2017, and 26-year-old Denmark's Victor Gebhard Osterby.
They would all love to win this week at Galgorm Castle, but the ultimate aim is not to be back here playing next season, and to do so automatically they need to finish in the top 15 of the Road to Ras Al Khaimah rankings.
Manley, who sits in sixth place in the rankings, was in superb form yesterday, carding seven birdies in a bogey-free round of 64.
Following one victory, two top-five finishes and two further top-ten results this season, Manley knows he is well-placed to regain his European Tour playing rights - something another good result could all but guarantee this week.
"It would be great to get the job done this week," he said.
"It has been a very successful and consistent season so far, so it would be great to get a couple more big finishes and secure my card for next year.
"I putted very well, kept the ball in play and I wasn't even sure if I was going to be able to play today so I'm very happy with my start.
"I have been struggling with my neck since Saturday but credit to the European Tour's physio team as without them I wouldn't have been able to play for sure."
Also impressing on his first visit to Northern Ireland was Kim. The 17-year-old, who became the youngest player to win on the Challenge Tour with his victory in the D+D REAL Czech Challenge in May, carded one eagle, six birdies and one bogey and was delighted to return to form following a difficult stretch.
"I played very well today," said Kim who is currently 34th in the rankings.
"I putted very well and I was perfect off of the tee until the last two holes where on 17 and 18 I missed the fairway by a long way, but I still managed to come away with a bogey and a par.
"It wasn't a great finish but overall I am very happy with my performance today."
Finch, meanwhile, has tasted the highs of success on the European Tour but didn't even know he would be playing at Galgorm until Sunday.
"I have played whenever I have got the chance," said Finch.
"I spent all day Tuesday on the ferry coming over and then played in the pro-am but that worked well because I was able to see the conditions.
"I putted really well. The course is in great condition which obviously helps with low scoring and I got a few good breaks. It all added up to a nice day."
Meanwhile, Ardglass golfer Cormac Sharvin is positioned nicely after hitting an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys in his 67 to sit four off the lead.
"It was a great start, it wasn't playing easy by any stretch of the imagination," he said.
"At times the wind got up and there were little bits of rain so I'm happy with four-under."
Elsewhere, Jonathan Caldwell carded a bogey-free three-under par 68, the Clandeboye man a model of consistency after making 15 pars, while tournament ambassador Michael Hoey battled back to finish one-under with a birdie at his final hole.
"I was very average today, very disappointing," Hoey lamented. "But the finish gives me a good position, I would have been absolutely gutted if I finished over par because I'm swinging it better than that."
Local man Dermot McElroy, who hails from nearby Ballymena Golf Club, is at level par, Moyola Park's Chris Selfridge shot a one-over 72, while Banbridge's Richard Kilpatrick and Whitehead's John Ross Galbraith are a shot further back at two-over par.
64 (-7): Minkyu Kim (Kor), Stuart Manley (Wal)
65 (-6): Richard Finch (Eng), Marcus Armitage (Eng), Victor Gebhard Østerby (Den)
66 (-5): Jack Senior (Eng), Calum Hill (Sco), Mark Flindt Haastrup (Den)
67 (-4): Ben Stow (Eng), Cormac Sharvin (NI), Edouard España (Fra), Scott Henry (Sco), Magnus A Carlsson (Swe), Enrico di Nitto (Ita), Ross Kellett (Sco)
68 (-3): Jeppe Pape Huldahl (Den), Duncan Stewart (Sco), Ruaidhri McGee (Ire), Julien Brun (Fra), Sam Locke (Sco), Sam Hutsby (Eng), Ross McGowan (Eng), Miguel Gaspar (Por), Lars van Meijel (Ned), Max Orrin (Eng), Jonathan Caldwell (NI), Christian Braeunig (Ger), Daan Huizing (Ned), Victor Perez (Fra)
69 (-2): Reinier Saxton (Ned), Jacopo Vecchi Fossa (Ita), Romain Langasque (Fra), Ewen Ferguson (Sco), Damien Perrier (Fra), Niclas Johansson (Swe), Alexander Knappe (Ger), Callum Tarren (Eng), Joao Carlota (Por), Stuart Grehan (Ire), Wil Besseling (Ned), Joshua White (Eng), Marcel Schneider (Ger), Jack Singh Brar (Eng)
70 (-1): Jack McDonald (Sco), Martin Ovesen (Den), Moritz Lampert (Ger), Ricardo Santos (Por), Ivan Cantero Guttierez (Spa), Bryce Easton (Rsa), Mario Galiano Aguilar (Spa), Rhys Enoch (Wal), Hugues Joannes (Bel), Jamie McLeary (Sco), Michael Hoey (NI), Francesco Laporta (Ita), Carlos del Moral (Spa)
71 (E): Dermot McElroy; 72 (+1): Chris Selfridge; 73 (+2): Richard Kilpatrick, John Ross Galbraith; 82 (+11): Michael Dallat