SIX-under par was the score of the day at the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women, as Scotland’s Craig Ross and Darlington’s Eleanor Givens wrote their names into the record books as first-round leaders.
Ross, who won on the EuroPro Tour last year, carded a 64 at Massereene Golf Club, while England’s Givens signed for her own six-under round with a 67 at the par 73 Galgorm Castle Golf Club.
The pair lead their respective tournaments by one stroke from two competitors.
Five of the top seven players in tied fourth or better in the men’s tournament were playing at Massereene, while 13 of the top 14 in the women’s tournament opened their tournament at Galgorm Castle, highlighting how the scoring contrasted at each set-up.
With heavy rain curtailing the pro-am on Wednesday, both courses were wet underfoot early on day one, with the majority of the low scorers playing later in the day.
Ross’s superb bogey-free 64 set the pace in the men’s tournament ahead of England’s Europro winner Richard Mansell, and Frenchman Gary Stal on five-under.
Ross, from Kirkhill Golf Club, who earned his Challenge Tour by making the cut at Qualifying School, in Spain, in November, said: “It was great to put a 64 together. I’ve had some poor performances to start the season, so it’s nice to be able to put a strong score together out there.
“I was missing a few greens early on but made some good up-and-downs over my opening nine, and then on the closing nine I was just able to slot in some birdie putts.
“It was obviously great to finish with five birdies in the last six holes.
“I was expecting the scores to be a lot lower, especially looking at the results in the Northern Ireland Open in the past.
“So I was little surprised to see four[under was leading after the morning although this course is a little tricky to master because the two nines play quite differently.
“I’m expecting Galgorm Castle to be a little tougher, especially because the weather’s not looking so good.
“But I’m just going to try and do more of the same stuff,” added Ross.
“I really enjoyed playing in the Jordan Mixed Open, where we were paired up with one woman and a senior.
“I know this event is a little bit different in that we are not playing directly against the girls, but it’s cool to see another format like this on the schedule and I’ve been really enjoying the experience so far.”
Meanwhile Calum Hill, who has won twice in his last three starts on the Euorpean Challenge Tour, is a shot further back among the pack on four-under in the tournament, which has been organised by Nial Horan’s Modest! Golf Management group that looks after many of the Tour’s up and coming young stars.
Cormac Sharvin was one of the strong contingent of Irish players hoping to give the crowds something to cheer – after Shane Lowry’s memorable win in The Open at Royal Portrush last month.
Sharvin, who is 26 and attached to Ardglass GC, said: “I played really nicely tee to green and it was probably as bad a score as it could have been.
“I gave myself good chances on practically every hole, drove it well and my iron play was very good.
“It was playing tricky, a lot trickier than I thought it was going to be so I’m pretty happy with two-under.
Sharvin, who won the Irish Amateur Championship in 2013, added: “The course has held up well considering the rain we’ve had – just that little bit of breeze made it tricky.
“Quite a few par fours we were hitting longer clubs into. I can see why some people are going to struggle.
“You can’t win it on the first day, you can only lose it. Two-under has put me in a decent position.
“The format is good. To be honest, we struggled to keep up with the women in front. We got monitored at one stage. The women seem to be playing pretty quick and maybe they’re showing us how it’s done!”
Givens leads on six-under from American Beth Allen and Germany’s Karolin Lampert, who are two shots clear of Silvia Banon, Manon de Roey, Wentworth’s Annabel Dimmock and local star Stephanie Meadow on three-under.
Givens said: “I’m really pleased with how I played. I played really solid golf and was really happy with how it was.
“It’s actually my first time playing with some new clubs I have so it was nice to start with that – and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.
“It’s actually been really nice weather and the greens are rolling really nicely, so there’s definitely a score out there to be had.
“I had a little bit of a slow patch towards the end of my first nine holes but then played really well on the back nine.
“There’s some interesting weather coming our way. We played in some interesting weather last week in Scotland as well, so I’ve had a lot of practice recently and I’d rather play in sunshine, but will see what comes.
“I’ll just stay really patient and try to play as steady as possible. Massereene is another really nice golf course, so I’ll just deal with whatever comes our way and keep going.
“It’s nice to play in the Northern Hemisphere in this format. I played in the Vic Open before so I was really excited to try and do that here and I’m glad I could come.”
Meadow, who represented Ireland at Olympics in Rio three years ago, said: “I started good, a little shaky in the middle, and then battled back towards the end.
“I hit a lot of good putts but nothing really fell, but overall it’s a decent start.
“I’m just happy I hit some really good iron shots on the way in and when that happens, that’s a good sign for tomorrow and the rest of the week.
“It was great to see some very old faces I haven’t seen in a very long time, so I’m sure it’ll be the same tomorrow. I’ll take it in and enjoy it.
“There were a good few Portrush faces around, one lady was lady captain when I joined and I was her junior prize winner.
“She brought the picture where I think I was 10. She was showing me on the first tee. It’s just little things like that that are pretty special and we’ll always remember that.
“I was a tiny bit nervous on the first tee, which is a bit unusual. I had a few sponsors here, including the CEO.
“It was more emotional than anything. Nervous isn’t the right word, just more emotional than normal.
“Obviously, I want to play well for everybody and give everybody a show who came to support me.
“It’s great so far, it’s been run really well. I enjoy being with the men, we do the same thing week in week out, 25 weeks a year.
“So to see some new faces and even hear the sound on the driving range of the guys hitting is a little strange. It’s nice, it’s a good change,” added Meadow, who has been playing in the USA on the LPGA and Symetra Tour for the past three years.
On Friday, players will switch courses so those playing at Galgorm Castle on Thursday will play at Massereene and vice versa, before the field is cut to 60 and ties in both the men’s and women’s tournaments.
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