Michael Hoey threatened to record the first 59 in European Tour history before having to settle for a share of the lead on a low-scoring first 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 20ft 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 because I haven’t been nervous on a golf course for quite 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). I had to have sinus surgery done a couple of years ago. I haven’t been as healthy as I wanted to be, so hopefully now I can get going.”
Playing in just his 15th European Tour event after gaining his card via the qualifying school last year, Soderberg was also eight under par after 11 holes and admitted that breaking the magical 60 barrier was very much on his mind.
“That’s all I thought about walking down the par-five 12th, it kind of helped keep me going,” said Soderberg.
“I didn’t feel like it stopped me, I definitely had a couple of putts the last seven holes that could have gone in, but overall it was a great round.”
Spain’s Alvaro Quiros was in a tie for fourth after a 63 which included a hole-in-one from 191 yards on the 13th and seven birdies to carry on from where he left off after a closing 65 in Portugal last week.
After winning twice on the European Tour in 2011, Quiros was ranked 21st in the world, but has gradually slipped to his current position of 703rd and missed 15 cuts in 23 events last season.
“Back in 2012 I decided to improve my swing, thinking that I should be a little bit more consistent, that I should be a more steady player and it really ruined everything, technically speaking,” said Quiros.
“I’m not one of the clever guys on Tour. I shouldn’t be looking to be more like Edoardo Molinari, a precision guy, somebody who wants to control everything, I’m not like that. That was my mistake.”
Meanwhile, Tramore’s John Mitchell posted a second-round 76 to hold his share of the lead after day two of the Irish Seniors Amateur Open at Tipperary.
Mitchell was among a three-way tie for the lead after the opening round but English pair Richard Clarke and Ian Elmes slipped back as Andrew Carman moved up thanks to a second successive round of 74.
Carman and Mitchell are just one clear of the field going into the final round. And there is a stack of players poised to chase down the leaders — Clarke and Elmes are among a five-man group on five over.
Despite dropping three shots on the back nine, Mitchell’s 76 was good for a share of the lead although he would have been out in front but for a closing bogey. Andrew Carman had just one birdie but kept his errors to a minimum as he moved into the leading group.
Just one player managed to break par on a difficult day for scoring at Tipperary. Nigel Evans of Wales moved within one shot of the leaders thanks to his second round 71, which featured three birdies.
Evans and Carman were the big movers on the second day of action at the stunning Dundrum venue. After a neat and tidy opening round of 72, Mitchell had to be content with 76 during a round that did not yield a single birdie.
Former champion Hugh Smyth is the next best Irish player and is among the five-man group on five over. Scotland’s Tony Patterson is also within one stroke.
See Digest for scores
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