Thursday, 28 July 2016

European Tour champion Damien McGrane is one of seven golfers holding a share of the clubhouse lead after a rain-affected day in the Tayto Northern Ireland Open in partnership with Ulster Bank, at Galgorm Castle Golf Club.

Persistent rain, which started at 4am, forced a delay of six hours with the first groups teeing off at 1.30pm in the afternoon.

Ballymena, where the course is situated, saw an unprecedented level of rainfall with 35mm throughout the day – the average for this time of year is usually 2.1mm.

McGrane shares the lead with Dylan Frittelli, Daniel Gaunt, Sam Hutsby, Rory McNamara, Bernd Ritthammer and Ben Stow on six under par after first round scores of 65.

The Irishman reached the turn on three under par after carding three birdies, before carding three more birdies on the back nine to complete a blemish-free round.

“I played lovely from start to finish,” said McGrane. “I hit a lot of good tee shots; I was able to be patient and holed a couple of putts on the front nine.

“It was a stress-free round, which doesn’t happen often. The course has some birdie opportunities, but you have to hit the fairways to have a chance.

“Even after all the rain, the fairways are firm. The greens are soft, but they were very good for us because we were out early.”

Englishman Stow, who debuted on the European Challenge Tour in 2015, notched a birdie on the 17th hole to move level with McGrane at the top of the leaderboard.

“I hit it in the rough, but found a good lie from the crowds yesterday who were following Niall Horan in the Pro-Am,” said Stow.

“I put it to ten feet with my second shot and made the putt.

“I’m amazed with how dry the course was, the fairways were good, the greens were good and all credit goes to the greenkeepers. It’s in amazing condition considering the rain we’ve had.”

McNamara’s stunning finish of an eagle and three birdies propelled him up the leaderboard to a share of first place.

One shot behind the six golfers at the top of the leaderboard is recent Challenge Tour champion Adrien Saddier, and a shot further back are eight golfers on four under par, including tournament ambassador Michael Hoey, who carded a first round 67.

“It’s the best score I’ve ever shot round here,” said Hoey. “There are scores out there and the guys have shot good numbers. 

“There was a point today when I was struggling. I’d bogeyed the third, but dug in well to make par on the sixth hole and then finished with three birdies. I could have easily been two or three over par.”

A total of 26 groups – 78 golfers – are still to finish their first rounds after play was suspended just after 9pm due to darkness. These will be completed on Friday morning, and the second round will commence at 11:20am.

Sebastian Heisele and Darius van Driel have made solid starts to their first rounds and sit on three under par through nine holes.


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