Thornton is coming to the fore as Hoey stays on course at Northern Ireland Open
Simon Thornton thrived on his return to Ulster as he posted a five-under-par round of 66 to open his account at the Sphere Global Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle yesterday.
The Newcastle man lies just a shot off the lead on a great day for scoring at the County Antrim venue.
Thornton picked up six birdies and dropped just one shot to leave himself one adrift of a group of five players in the joint lead at six under.
They are South African Hadyn Porteous, American John Hahn, Ireland's Niall Turner, Dutchman Daan Huizing and Spain's Emilio Cuarto Blanco.
Turner's 65 included an eagle two on the second hole and he covered his back nine in five under par.
Moyola's Chris Selfridge, who is having an impressive debut season on the tour, opened with a more than respectable three-under 68, a round which included six birdies, one bogey and one double.
Another Newcastle man, Reeve Whitson, is a shot further back at two under after a solid opening-day performance.
And it wasn't too bad a day either for tournament ambassador Michael Hoey, who came home with a one-under 70.
Another solid 18 holes today would see him make the cut in this event for the first time in three attempts, although he'd love to put in a low score and get right into contention.
Host club tournament professional Hoey picked up a routine birdie at the short par-four second but immediately gave the shot back at the third and dropped to one over after bogeying the eighth.
The Belfast man managed to pick up three birdies in the remainder of his round, with his four at the par-five last meaning that he squeezed in under par.
One man who has been lighting up the Challenge Tour scene this year is Sebastian Gros, who is in a share of sixth place overnight with Thornton, his playing partner yesterday, and 10 others.
The Frenchman, who is lying second in the money list and comfortably inside the qualifying mark for his full playing rights on the European Tour next season, said the warm atmosphere at Galgorm was a major factor in his play.
"It does make it easier when your playing partners are playing well," he said.
The other man in the three-ball was joint leader Porteous.
"There was a really nice spirit in our game and all three were very friendly and the fact that it's a good atmosphere really helps you," Gros continued.
"Low scoring is always good, but I didn't really feel that we were going low. It was more the fact that the attitude of all three of us was good and that probably helped us to be comfortable and to play well."
The 25-year-old from Lyon has one win to his credit this season which came in his homeland as well as three other top-five finishes.
"The course is not easy and it was good to make an under-par score," he added.
"You have to drive the ball pretty well around here but because the greens are not all that defended, if you put yourself in good positions off the tee, you won't have too many long shots in.
"There are a few key holes to get through, but the wind was kind and the conditions were much better than they have been.
"I'm very happy with my season so far and I've made a few mistakes in my attitude in the past few weeks where I've had good first rounds but not good finishes. I've tried to go crazy under par.
"Hopefully I won't make the same mistakes this week and just try to focus on the easiest things."
It was a disappointing day for new North of Ireland champion John Ross Galbraith, whose three-over round of 74 left him tied for 130th.
He easily made the cut as an amateur last year, but that looks unlikely this time around.
Also looking to be heading home early is Javier Ballesteros, son of the legendary Seve, who had a seven-over 78.