Galgorm Castle bared its teeth on the first day of the Northern Ireland Open supported by the R&A as the tricky conditions saw scores soar on Thursday.
France’s Julien Quesne came to the head of the pack on a day where strong rain and wind played its part in seeing only 25 of the 129-strong field shoot under-par, the two-time European Tour winner’s four-under-par 66 the best round on its own.
Indeed, there were more rounds in the 80s at Galgorm as there were rounds three-under or better as the Challenge Tour’s top names struggled to get to grips on their return to action at the Co Antrim course.
Quesne’s round, which saw him drop just one shot across the 18 holes, was enough to hand him a one-shot lead going into today’s second round, with fellow countryman Clement Berardo, English duo Bradley Moore and Alfie Plant and America’s Tyler Koivisto at three-under.
After birdies at his opening two holes, Quesne settled into a nice rhythm before picking up another birdie at the par-four eighth to reach the back nine at three-under, before a busy finish that saw him birdie the 16th, bogey the 17th but close with a birdie at the par-five 18th.
The local challenge was led by Whitehead’s John Ross Galbraith, who teed the whole tournament off in the first group at 7.30am and shot what he probably didn’t realise at the time would be a strong level-par round of 70.
The 26-year-old birdied his last two holes to get back to where he started after a round that included two double-bogeys but a further three birdies.
“I had two lost balls so level par is okay,” commented Galbraith on his round.
“You have to keep it on the fairways around here. It’s set up perfectly. If you drive the ball well, you are going to get rewarded and be able to attack the pins. If you’re offline at all, you’ll be punished, which is the way it should be. Perfect set up this week.”
Of the other Northern Irish players, tournament ambassador Michael Hoey had looked all set to shoot an excellent opening round and put himself in the mix early, only to suffer a disastrous final five holes.
After mixing three birdies with two bogeys, Hoey finished the 13th hole at one-under-par, just three off the lead, but proceeded to collapse, recording bogeys at the 14th, 16th and 17th before rounding off his day with a quadruple-bogey nine at the 18th to card a six-over 76.
Also at that mark are a fellow local pair in Galgorm Castle amateur Joshua Hill and Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy, as is Derry man Ruaidhri McGee, but Holywood amateur Tom McKibbin fared better in opening with a one-over-par 71.
Naas’ Conor O’Rourke heads the overall Irish challenge after a one-under-par 69 that featured three birdies on his inward nine, while David Carey is one-over.
At the Andalucia Masters on the European Tour, Jonathan Caldwell is four shots off the lead after his opening round after a two-over 73 at Valderamma, while Cormac Sharvin (Ardglass) shot a four-over 75.
Meanwhile, Newcastle man Simon Thornton (Tulfarris) won his third Irish PGA Championship title after triumphing a play-off over Colm Moriarty (Glasson) to win the 2020 event at Roganstown in Co Dublin.
Thornton birdied the first play-off hole to take title after he and Moriarty finished the event — shortened from three rounds to two after torrential rain cancelled Wednesday’s play — tied at two-under.
Elsewhere, Lisburn’s Ross Campbell finished second at the Connacht Boys Under-18 Open at Loughrea, finishing one shot behind winner Dylan Keating (Seapoint), but did walk away with the nett prize.