Ryan Fox continued his love affair with the Rolex Series as he fired an opening 67 to take a one-shot lead into the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.
The New Zealander has played in all 11 of the prestige events since they were introduced last season, securing four top tens including a tie for fourth at this event last season and a tie for eighth at the Italian Open five weeks ago.
With Ballyliffin Golf Club looking picture perfect as it made its Irish Open debut at the fourth Rolex Series event of the season, Fox continued that form to get to five under as he looks to secure a second consecutive appearance at the Open Championship.
The 31 year old played his way into the year's third Major Championship at this event last season and once again there are three places available to the leading players in the top ten not already exempt.
Home favourite and two-time Claret Jug winner Padraig Harrington's place at Carnoustie Golf Links is already assured and he was a shot off the lead alongside Englishmen Ashley Chesters, Robert Rock, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett, and French pair Matthieu Pavon and Adrien Saddier.
Fox finished 34th on the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex in his debut season last term, and is currently 40th after making ten of 13 cuts in a consistent campaign so far.
"I drove it nice. I think I probably only hit five or six fairways but missed them in the right places and hit a lot of good drives that just ran through fairways and gave myself a lot of chances,” he said.
“I'd love to be in the Open and Carnoustie is one of the best golf courses in the world I think and I'd love the chance to play there in an Open.
“As good a start as I can have, really, and hopefully three more rounds and if I can sneak in that top five like last year and get an Open spot, that would be great."
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 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 two.
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, and 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.
Westwood hit a wonderful approach to tap-in range on the third and added birdies on the fourth and tenth before a nice chip on the 13th edged him closer to the lead.
Chesters was also bogey-free with gains on the fourth, sixth, seventh and 16th, while 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.
Willett - the 2016 Masters Tournament champion - recovered from a bogey on the third with birdies on the fourth, eighth, 12th, 13th and 17th.
Swedish pair Alexander Björk and Joakim Lagergren, South Korean Jinho Choi, Spanish duo Nacho Elvira and Adrian Otaegui, South African Dylan Frittelli, England's Sam Horsfield, Scotland's Scott Jamieson and Japan's Yusaku Miyazato were two shots off the lead.
Tournament host Rory McIlroy was in the group at two under, four shots clear of defending champion Jon Rahm.
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