Rolex Series specialist Ryan Fox continued his love affair with the European Tour's prestige events as he fired an opening 67 to set the clubhouse target on day one of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.
The New Zealander has four top tens from the 11 Rolex Series events played so far, including a tie for fourth at this event last season and a tie for eighth at the Italian Open five weeks ago.
Ballyliffin Golf Club looked stunning on its Irish Open debut as the European Tour's summer links run got under way, and Fox made the most of the conditions to get to five under, a shot clear of home hero Padraig Harrington, English duo Ashley Chesters and Robert Rock, and French pair Matthieu Pavon and Adrien Saddier.
Fox played his way into the Open Championship at this event last season and he is once again looking for one of the three places available to the leading players in the top ten not already exempt.
Rock got off to a fast start, making gains on the first, second and fourth to join the lead and when he holed a 15-footer on the ninth, he was ahead on his own.
Fox made birdies on the 13th, 14th, 17th and first to go with a bogey on the 15th in his first ten holes but he was soon two off the lead as Rock and Saddier surged ahead.
Saddier made birdies on the third, fourth, tenth and 12th to join the lead but Rock birdied the 11th before Saddier made a gain after getting on the par five 13th green in two as the duo led by two.
Fox holed a ten-footer on the sixth to get within one of the lead but a Rock birdie on the 13th coupled with a dropped shot by Saddier on the 15th meant the two-time European Tour winner led by one.
There was then a two-shot swing as Fox holed a monster putt on the ninth for a closing birdie as Rock dropped a first shot of the day on the 15th, before a second consecutive bogey put Fox in the driving seat.
Harrington bogeyed the 15th but chipped in for eagle on the 17th before adding birdies on the fourth and sixth, and a stunning tee-shot into the par three seventh had him a shot off the lead.
Chesters was bogey-free playing alongside Saddier, with gains on the fourth, sixth, seventh and 16th.
Pavon birdied the first and fourth but gave a shot back on the next before coming home in 34 with birdies on the 12th, 15th and 16th.
Belgian Knockout champion Adrian Otaegui, AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open winner Dylan Frittelli, Qualifying School winner Sam Horsfield, South Korean Jinho Choi, Scotland's Scott Jamieson and Japan's Yusaku Miyazato were at three under.
Mikko Ilonen and Søren Kjeldsen - winners of this event in 2014 and 2015 - were in the group at two under, four shots clear of defending champion Jon Rahm.
England's Mark Foster made the 20th hole-in-one of the season at the par three seventh, holing a seven iron from 177 yards for the 36th ace in tournament history en route to a 77.
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