Five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey returned to form in style during the opening round of the European Challenge Tour season at the Barclays Kenya Open on Thursday.
The 39 year old carded a five under par round of 66 at Muthaiga Golf Club after a winter of behind-the-scenes work to get his game in shape.
Playing with Irishman Gavin Moynihan and Swede Magnus A Carlsson, Hoey was three under par through the first seven holes before a bogey on the eighth hole saw him make the turn at two under.
An excellent birdie on the par five tenth hole moved Hoey to three under before back-to-back birdies on the par three 13th and par four 14th holes saw the Northern Irishman move up the leaderboard.
Belfast-born Hoey then dropped a shot with a bogey on the 15th hole but hit back with a birdie on the par four 17th hole to return to five under.
The 2011 Alfred Dunhill Links Champion successfully navigated the 534-yard par five 18th to secure an opening round 66 and in doing so laid solid foundations for the remainder of the tournament.
The 2001 Amateur Champion highlighted his off-season work as a major factor in his strong start at Muthaiga Golf Club as he aims to better his highest finish of tied third in the 2004 Kenya Open.
“I haven’t competed for five months. I did some good work in Spain with my coach and I’m keeping it pretty simple,” said Hoey.
“I’ve got an indoor golf facility at home and I putt a lot – I make a few swings and if your swing’s good, you don’t actually need to practice that much.
“You need to be able to putt, that’s the main thing. I got off to a good start. My putter feels better; I did a lot of indoor putting.”
Hoey, a four-time winner on the Challenge Tour, knows the importance of a good week in Kenya but is focused on keeping his equilibrium, despite what is at stake.
“This is so big, it’s like our Major really. Whoever wins this is guaranteed a Tour card so you can’t put yourself under too much pressure but you need to do well over the next few days.
“The rainy season has come early this year, it’s normally very dry at this time of year. Target golf makes it a bit easier for us – last year was very, very linksy.”