The Irish international (22) dropped just one stroke in a cold northeast breeze, blasting an eagle and six birdies in a seven-under par round that equalled the 64 carded by Co Sligo’s David Brady in 2014.
“My preparation wasn’t ideal but I eventually got into a rhythm,” said a delighted Dawson, who only returned to Ireland from a holiday in Australia last Wednesday following an intensive early season schedule that took him from Argentina to South Africa and Qatar.
“I actually played so badly in practice yesterday that I went to the range because I had no idea what was going on. But I found something this morning and away I went. It was nice to get a round under my belt.” Dawson’s score didn’t count as a course record as the field did not play from the championship tees at the fifth or 10th.
Despite that, just ten players in the 126-strong field broke par and the cream rose to the top after the morning and afternoon waves had tackled the famed Co Sligo links.
Forrest Little’s Jack McDonnell (22) and Kilkenny’s Mark Power, the Irish Boys champion, are tied for second after four-under 67s with 2016 champion Jonathan Yates from Naas and North West’s Kyle McCarron posting 68s to share fourth spot.
McDonnell only flew home from Bristol late on Thursday night after an unsuccessful trip to the first stage of the PGA Europro Tour’s Qualifying School.
But like Dawson, he found poor preparation no impediment to good play as he made two eagles and five birdies in his 67, covering his last nine holes in just 30 blows.
“I went to the Q-School just to test the waters but didn’t get through and then my flight was delayed,” said McDonnell, who won the Munster Youths at Monkstown Golf Club.
“My plan is to play full time golf this year and try and make the Irish team by finishing in the top-two in the new Bridgestone Order of Merit.” The top three scores came in the afternoon and Power (17) showed his unquestionable talent by making seven birdies in his four-under par round.
Dawson started at the 15th and after holing good putts for birdies at the 16th and 18th, he followed a three-putt bogey at the second with a birdie-birdie-eagle run from the third with his shot of the day a 210-yard two-iron to 10 feet at the fifth setting up an eagle three.
He then closed out his day in style, hitting a nine to 15 feet at the downwind 11th to set up a birdie before chipping to a foot from the perfect spot left of the par-five 12th.
Rosslare’s Gary Collins shot a one-under 70 in the morning wave to share the lead with Laytown and Bettystown’s Cian Geraghty and Portmarnock’s John Greene.
The temperature rose for the afternoon starters but despite that, the average score was 74.92 with Irish Amatuer Open champion Peter O’Keeffe and top international Alex Gleeson from Castle carding two-over 73s.
Defending champion Barry Anderson shot a level par 71 in the morning and he’s hopeful that he can become the first man since Rory McIlroy in 2006 to retain the title.
“It’s nice to be here as defending champion to just enjoy it and try to match Rory and win it back-to-back,” the Rosses Point native said. “A 71 was the worst I could have shot because I hit the ball very well in that cold northeast wind but didn’t make many putts.”
The leading 64 players after today’s second round will qualify for the first round of matchplay tomorrow.