Englishman Sam Walker made the most of warm and sunny weather conditions in the morning of yesterday’s opening round, shooting a six-under-par 66 to take a two-shot lead over compatriot Steven Brown, Holland’s Darius van Driel and Edouard Dubois of France with Meath’s Rory McNamara the best of a sizeable Irish contingent in a tie for 13th.
The 26-year-old from Headfort, in his third year as a professional, shot a two-under 70 before wind and rain made scoring more difficult for the afternoon wave of starters.
Former Walker Cup player Cormac Sharvin, one five Irishmen on the victorious GB&I team against the US at Lytham last year, finished one under, while Niall Kearney and current amateur international Colm Campbell opened with level-par 72s.
The rest of the Irish were over par, including for Sharvin’s fellow rookie pros and former Walker Cuppers Gavin Moynihan (74) and Gary Hurley (78), who will now stare into a battle to make the halfway cut in today’s second round.
With five tournaments after this week remaining on the Challenge Tour schedule before the season-ending Road To Oman finale in November there is plenty to play for as golfers chase their holy grail of European Tour status.
The top 15 in the Road To Oman rankings after the 22nd and final event will earn their cards but only the top 45 in the rankings after the penultimate event in the United Arab Emirates will progress to NBO Golf Classic Grand Final. Leading Irishman Chris Selfridge was ranked 43rd going into the Volopa Irish Challenge and Hurley 64th with the biggest prize funds of the season up for grabs between now and November.
Meanwhile England’s Ben Evans carded a six-under 65 to hold a one-shot lead after the first round of the KLM Open at The Dutch in Spijk.
The 29-year-old carded seven birdies, four of them in succession from the 12th, with his only bogey coming at the 17th.
That left him one clear of eight players, including compatriot Chris Hanson and Sweden’s Peter Hanson.
Evans experienced a dramatic end to the 2015 season when he shot a closing 65 at the final event in Hong Kong which looked to have saved his card, only to finish 111th on the Race to Dubai with only the top 110 retaining their playing privileges.
Last week’s European Masters winner Alex Noren carded a 69, while Chris Wood continued his preparations for a maiden Ryder Cup appearance at the end of the month with a round of 72.
Defending champion Thomas Pieters was been forced to withdraw from the event after he suffered an allergic reaction to a bee sting.
The Belgian, who was named as Darren Clarke’s final Ryder Cup wild card pick last month, was stung during a challenge match on Monday.