Philip Walton put in a stroming finish at sunny Castlerock when he carded a two-under-par 71 to snatch the overnight lead in the first round of the £110,000 Smurfit PGA Irish Region Championship.
However, Walton, aiming to win the championship for a fifth time - the last being at Belvoir Park in 1995 - had to survive a bad start as he was three-over-par after only four holes and in the same situation at the turn.
Then he then leaped into action with birdies at 10 and 11 and turned in a storming triple birdie finish for a wonderful back nine of five-under-par 32.
"I battled well after that bad start - my confidence is back again. I drove the ball well and my putting was good but my irons were not as good as I'd like them to be. The cross-wind was difficult. I like links golf and I like this course," said Walton.
Defending champion Paul McGinley had a serious stumble on the back nine as he went from two-under after 12 holes to two-over at the 16th.
He bogeyed the 13th and then lost two strokes at the long 15th where he drove into rough, was in rough again and took five to the green.
He three-putted the 16th but, like a true champion, finished strongly with back-to-back birdies for level par 73..
The Ryder Cup team member was on the long 17th with a five wood and rolled
in a 25-footer for birdie three at the last.
SMURFIT PGA IRISH REGION CHAMPIONSHIP
First Round (Par 73):
71 - P Walton (Westpoint Fitness Centre),
72 - P Russell (Unattached), M Allan (Leopardstown),
73 - M Bannon (Bangor), J Murray (Elm Green), J Dignam (Slade Valley), D
Smyth (Unattached), L Walker (Dundalk), H Jackson (Donabate), P McGinley (K
Club), W O'Callaghan (Fernhill),
74 - G Robinson (Wexford), P Stevenson (Portadown), K Grealy (Royal Tara), R
Huton (Cliftonville), R Burns (Newlands), G Burke (Curragh),
75 - F Howley (Milltown), D Mooney (Laganview), K Moris (Fota Island), D
Byrne (Hermitage), N Howley (Black Bush), N Callan (City of Derry), D
Kearney (Galway DR), C Barry (Donabate), N Manchip (Royal Dublin), D Walker
(Foxrock), A Johnston (Ballyclare), M O'donovan (Harbour Point),
76 - H O'Neill (Connemara), D Lavelle (Foxrock), S Thornton (Royal Co Down),
P McGuirk (Co Louth), B Kelleher (Ballybunion), S Hamill (Lisburn), G
Loughrey (Knockbracken), D McFarlane (East Cork), C Smyth (Dundalk), D
O'Sullivan (St Margaret's),
77 - F Dwyer (Celbridge), JP Dolan (Charleville), P Hanna (Fortwilliam), E
Doyle (Heath), E Tracey (Enniscrone), J Bolger (Kilkenny), B McGovern
(Headfort), M Sludds (Enniscorthy), J Kinsella (Skerries), A Scheppe
(Malahide), G McShea (Rossmore), G Fairweather (Knock), J Muray (Malahide),
78 - G Madden (Galway DR), C Lytle (Galgorm Castle), G Chambers (Killymoon),
J Heggarty (Spawell), Z Rouiller (Spawell), J Langan (Milltown),
79 - P Farrell (Ardglass), I Kerr (Carlow DR), H Ewing (Carlow), G Moss
(Limerick Co), J Greenaway (Portadown), G McNeill (Royal Portrush), P
Leonard (Fintona), A Thomas (Old Conna), L Robinson (Donegal), R Duckett
(Fortwilliam), J Dwyer (Ashbourne),
80 - V Teague (Moyola Pk), M Kavanagh (Stackstown), G Jones (Newcastle
West), JP Noonan (Unattached), P Collins (Galgorm Castle), E Riblet (Navan),
G Roche (Curragh), C Spence (Royal Belfast),
81 - L Dowler (Wexford), J Kelly (Ward), T Mullaly (Royal Portrush), A
82 - K McLaughlin (Foyle), M Cassidy (Nuremore), C McCormick (Royal Dublin),
D Carroll (Seapoint), R Kelleher (Newlands), K Foy (Foxrock), S Donnelly
83 - S Rourke (Knockbracken), E Pettit (Killiney), R O'Dell (Village Green),
R Symes (Royal Belfast), B Browne (Laytown & Bettystown).
84 - S Hoey (Unattached), M McGivern (Belvoir Pk),
85 - K Dorrian (West Limerick), E Jones (K club),
87 - K Padayache (Ashbourne),
91 - T Mulholland (Killymoon),
Rtd - D McSweeney (Limerick Co),