Matthew Southgate was making the headlines again, as the opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation got under way at Portstewart Golf Club.
Last year at The K Club, Southgate produced one of the stories of the season. He finished fourth to essentially secure his European Tour card after coming through the Qualifying School barely months after recovering from testicular cancer, reports the European Tour.
Only three South Africans have finished their morning rounds, Trevor Immelman and Brandon Stone shot +1 73s, with Haydn Porteous two better after 18 holes.
‘Frustrated! The game felt in great shape and ready to go yesterday … wake up this more feeling like a 2 ton truck ran over me! Not Happy,’ tweeted Stone after the round.
On Thursday, the Englishman got to five under through 12 holes on the Northern Irish coast to open up a one-shot lead over Anthony Wall.
Ireland’s Open has seen a huge rise in profile in recent years. That continues this season as it joins the Rolex Series, one of eight prestige events with a prize fund of at least seven million dollars.
Southgate made an early stake for a share of that pot, with birdies on the fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth and 11th.
Wall started from the tenth and turned in 34 with three birdies and a bogey before putts of 25 and six feet on the first and second got him to four under.
At that stage there was then a group of seven players two shots off the lead, including Major Championship winner Justin Rose, Ryder Cup star Rafa Cabrera Bello and in-form Tommy Fleetwood.
Rose completed eight holes from the tenth with a birdie on the 13th and eagle on the 14th, while playing partner Fleetwood had birdies on the 12th, 13th and 17th.
Cabrera Bello also started from the tenth, and he turned in 33 with a hat-trick of birdies from the 13th.
Scot Stephen Gallacher and BMW International Open champion Andres Romero were also three under, alongside American Paul Peterson and Swede Joakim Lagergren.