Jon Lupton put the disappointment of missing out on Walker Cup glory behind him by firing a first round 64 to take control of the Benmore Developments Northern Ireland Masters and steal the limelight from homegrown stars Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell – who shot 72 and 69 respectively.
The 24 year old Englishman, playing in only his third professional event and making his European Challenge Tour debut, established a new course record over the amended 6761 yard, par 71 Clandeboye Golf Club to sit on seven under par at the end of round one.
He holds a two shot lead over Scotsman Marc Warren, with another Scot – Jack Doherty – a further stroke behind in third place.
Lupton, who just missed out on selection for the Great Britain and Ireland team that won the Walker Cup at Ganton last weekend, went to the turn in one under, before carding seven birdies and one bogey on the way home for a sizzling 30 on the back nine.
“I think it took me a while to get over the disappointment of not making the Walker Cup team to be honest with you,” said Lupton, who played for England over 30 times as an Amateur.
“That was a big blow for me because it was played very close to my home in Middlesbrough and I probably played too much golf in the run up to it when I didn’t need to.
“I turned pro just over three weeks ago, and played two events right away but missed both cuts. That made me realise my game wasn’t good enough and I spent last week practising and changing a few things and it seems to have clicked now.
“I did a lot of work on that and my overall game with my coach Peter Cowan last week because my long game wasn’t good enough.
“This is my first Challenge Tour event and so I was delighted to shoot 64 today. As I said earlier, I’m a streaky player but when I’m on my game I can go pretty low, so hopefully I can keep this form going for the rest of the week.”
World number 13 Clarke had a triple bogey six at the par three second and further bogeys at the fifth, 11th and 16th which are all par threes, but made amends with five birdies to keep himself in contention.
“I tried to punch a five iron into the second and pushed it and it bounced off the green and into the gorse,” said Clarke. I then I had an unplayable lie, took a drop b ut my swing was still being impeded and I shanked it out of there to ten feet and missed the putt to end up with a six.
“When you’re six over for the par threes it’s going to be tough but I made five birdies and I burned the edge of the cup quite a few times with birdie putts. The greens are great here but not much is going to fall in from the sides and I did my best to make it look difficult today!
“It was a tough grinding day for me out there today but I knew before I came here that I would have to be at my best to win, and I’m still aware of that. I was under no illusions that would just pitch up and take this title – these guys that are out on the Challenge Tour are all extremely good players.”
McDowell was happy with his opening round despite a freak finish on 18 where his ball hit the pin and almost landed out of bounds. The 24 year old is beginning to regain the confidence that saw him pick up his maiden European Tour title at the Volvo Scandinavian Masters last year.
“I’m generally happy with myself today,” said McDowell. “Even though I had that freak incident on the 18th were I hit an eight iron into the green that hit the left side of the pin and would have ended up out of bounds if it hadn’t hit a tree and come back in.
“My putt for par lipped out after that but I felt in control for the whole round and my short game was particularly good today – I even chipped in on the 12th for birdie.
“I feel as though I’m still in contention after a 69 which is great because I want to have a good week really badly here. It’s all about improving my confidence which I’m doing and it would be nice to do well in front of the home crowd.”