Old reliables John Kelly and Gary Hurley took up where they left off at Fota Island last year to lead the PGA-GUI challenge in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at windswept Royal County Down.
Twelve months ago, St Margaret’s professional Kelly was the only Irish Region member of the PGA to make the cut, eventually finishing tied 58th to pick up €5,600 as Hurley ended up 73rd.
This time it was Kelly opened up with a three over 74 that left him tied for 67th with the likes of Waterford Castle’s Kevin Phelan, Ryder Cup star Victor Dubuisson and two time Irish Amateur Open champion Gavin Moynihan from The Island.
Hurley started on the back nine and birdied the 11th and 12th to move into the top 10 on two under but while he bogeyed the 14th and then dropped three shots in his last six holes, his two over 73 gives him an excellent chance of making the cut again.
Tied for 46th with reigning Amateur champion Bradley Neil from Scotland, Hurley was no stranger to the conditions having played in similar weather in the Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin earlier this month.
Naas’ Jack Hume looked set to match Hurley as the leading Irish amateur but he took six at the tough ninth, his 18th, for his third double bogey of a four over 75 that left him tied 90th with the likes of Darren Clarke.
Kelly, 43, began his round at the 10th and rattled off nine pars to make the turn in level par 36.
He started home with another par at the par five first but dropped shots at the second, third and sixth on his way to a back nine of three over 38.
Headfort’s Brendan McGovern opened his campaign with a seven over par 78 while Ballyliffin’s Damien Mooney was one shot further back after a 79.
Monkstown professional Cian McNamara, playing in his third Irish Open, cut a frustrated figure after starting with a four over 75.
The 28-year-old made a terrible start from the 10th, dropping shots at his opening three holes before responding positively over the remaining holes.
“It was frustrating because it just happened so quick,” McNamara said.
“Nothing was crazy destructive, but I still made a bogey. So it was nice to pull it back and I played some lovely golf.”
McNamara birdied the 13th, 16th and the first to get back to level par before dropping another cluster of shots at the fifth, sixth and seventh. “Over the last couple of years I have always started well in first round and followed it up with a poor second so hopefully I can turn it around tomorrow,” he added.
“I am disappointed with finish but I’m looking forward to playing especially after the start. I could have knocked myself completely out of it.”
Old Conna’s Neil O’Briain fired an opening round 76 while Michael McDermott shot an 82 alongside co-leader Max Kieffer of Germany.
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