Bernd Ritthammer produced a brilliant opening round of seven under 64 to take the early lead during round one of the Northern Ireland Open Challenge presented by Clannah and XJET.
The big German moved clear of the four-strong group of players tied on six under at the Galgorm Castle Golf Club with a birdie on the 18th, making him the clubhouse leader midway through the first round.
Ritthammer was delighted to be able to produce his best in front of 3,021 people – a huge crowd for a Challenge Tour event.
The Northern Irish supporters were treated to some outstanding golf at Glagorm Castle, with last week’s Challenge Tour Champion Jen Dantorp joining Andrew McArthur, Ross McGowan and Ireland’s own Mick McGeady on six under par.
Former European Tour winner Nick Dougherty and Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson also responded to the galleries, producing a pair of five under 66s to join Thomas Norretm Ross Kellett and Jamie McLeary on the clubhouse leaderboard.
But it was Ritthammer who produced the best of the morning scores, after which he was naturally delighted.
“It was a lot of fun to play out there in front of some great crowds,” said Ritthammer. “This tournament has been brilliantly organised and to be playing in front of so many people at a Challenge Tour event is pretty cool.
“We just don’t get that many people coming out to see us on the Challenge Tour and it is great to be able to play in front of a big crowd who are all very knowledgeable about the game. When you play anywhere in Britain or Ireland, you know the people who are watching you appreciate good golf shots and they also know when you hit a poor shot.
“Today on the last I played this really tricky flop shot over a bunker and I played it well and the crowd responded. It is a great feeling when you do that and hopefully I can keep doing it over the next three days.
“The crowd certainly had a positive effect on me today. I think most professionals would like to be play in front of people all the time – we all want to entertain people with good shots and it helps me to focus and to play well.
“I have been playing well recently and not really getting the results the game has deserved, so hopefully today was the start of a very good week.”