Swede Joakim Lagergren got the second edition of the Northern Ireland Open Challenge in association with Maui Jim Sunglasses off to an explosive start, soaring to a course-record nine under par 62 to take a two-shot lead after Day One.
The 22 year old, who has already played two full seasons on The European Tour in his short professional career, threatened the magic number of 59 when he negotiated his opening 15 holes in eight under par with a par five to play on the par 71 lay-out.
He did birdie the ninth, his last hole having teed off at the tenth, and while he could not create history as the second player to shoot sub-60 on the Challenge Tour, his bogey-free opening round was enough to set a new record low round at the wonderfully-presented Galgorm Castle.
On a day when 4,429 people filed through the gates at what has become the best-attended event in Challenge Tour history, the crowds were treated to a mixed bag weather-wise, the course bathing in sunshine for the vast majority of the day but a heavy shower causing a 47-minute delay in play mid-way through the afternoon.
Lagergren was lucky enough to avoid that inconvenience and he was delighted to get off to such a strong start in perfect conditions, playing alongside local crowd favourite, promising amateur Dermot McElroy.
“You can’t start any better than this,” said the Stockholm player, whose stepfather Ola Eliasson is a former European Tour player. “I’ve been playing really well the last couple of weeks but the putting hasn’t really been going good and I holed a few putts today which gave me momentum.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the birdies I was making, I was just playing today. I wasn’t even sure how many under par I was but when you get on a roll like that you just don’t want to stop. You just don’t think about the scoring, you just keep hitting those good shots.
“I holed a few 15 to 20-foot putts today so that’s a real bonus. Hopefully it will be a good week. It really feels like a proper European Tour tournament, we had a small crowd with us all day today because I played with Dermot and it was really good fun.
“The crowds definitely boost me, it’s really nice that they come out to watch the local guys and I was lucky to have played with him.
“I didn’t really think about the 59. I actually missed a short birdie putt on my second last hole, the eighth, from around five feet. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
“Usually you get that buzz and adrenalin of a 59 when you’re six or seven under but I didn’t think about it at all today. Anything can happen over the next three days. I was hitting good shots today, and every course is easy when you do that, but if you’re not hitting good shots out there the course is not easy.
“It would be really good to have more crowds tomorrow. The crowds could get really big here this week. I played two years on The European Tour and especially when I played in Sweden, the crowds were fantastic, so hopefully I will have a similar atmosphere over the weekend.”
Anthony Snobeck of France was two shots back on seven under par after signing for a 64 which included two eagles, one of which came at the driveable par four second to get his round going early on.
Meanwhile, the strongest local challenge came from Jonathan Caldwell of Northern Ireland, who had a stellar amateur career which culminated in his partnering Rory McIlroy at the 2007 Walker Cup.
While he has thus far struggled to emulate that success in the professional ranks, an impressive six under par 65 moved the 30 year old to within three shots of the lead in a share of third place alongside another former Walker Cup player, England’s Steven Brown.
62 J Lagergren (Swe) ,
64 A Snobeck (Fra) ,
65 S Brown (Eng) , J Caldwell (Nir) ,
66 R McGowan (Eng) , M Orrin (Eng) , D Kemmer (USA) ,
67 W Booth (Sco) , T Sluiter (Ned) , T Linard (Fra) , R McEvoy (Eng) , K Benz (Sui) , G Shaw (Nir) , C Russo (Fra) , D McElroy (am) (Nir) ,
68 B Ritthammer (Ger) , C Shinkwin (Eng) , R Davies (Wal) , J Lando Casanova (Fra) , J Edfors (Swe) , T Lee (USA) , N Kearney (Irl) , C McDonnell (Eng) , C Hanson (Eng) , A Björk (Swe) , J Maw (Eng) , R Kind (Ned) , P Figueiredo (Por) , L Goddard (Eng) , K Ferrie (Eng) , G Cambis (Fra) , A Bernadet (Fra) , J Sjöholm (Swe) ,
69 P Maddy (Eng) , B Stone (RSA) , A McArthur (Sco) , G Boyd (Eng) , J Harrison (Eng) , M Glauert (Ger) , C Aguilar (Esp) , M Delpodio (Ita) , N Quintarelli (Ita) , P Dwyer (Eng) , J Winther (Den) , G Murray (Sco) ,
70 A Wrigley (Eng) , J Garcia Del Moral (Esp) , C Ford (Eng) , D Stewart (Sco) , S Little (Eng) , E Johansen (Nor) , M Decottignies-Lafon (Fra) , S Arnold (Aus) , J Huldahl (Den) , A Dunbar (Nir) , J Galbraith (am) (Nir) ,
71 B Åkesson (Swe) , M McGeady (Irl) , F Praegant (Aut) , M Ford (Eng) , R Russell (Sco) , M Tullo (Chi) , M Haines (Eng) , R Gowers (Eng) , E Espana (Fra) , M Trappel (Aut) , M Hoey (Nir) ,
72 M Wiegele (Aut) , C Kelly (Sco) , S Hutsby (Eng) , P Gal (Cze) , J Gonnet (Fra) , J Fahrbring (Swe) , F Fritsch (Ger) , A Savolainen (Fin) , D Mooney (Nir) , M Murphy (Irl) , D Gavins (Eng) , C Shave (Eng) , D Frittelli (RSA) , L Jensen (Den) , J Senior (Eng) , S Henry (Sco) , J Stalter (Fra) , M Lafeber (Ned) , P McKechnie (Sco) , C Paisley (Eng) , H Bacher (Aut) , B Robinson (am) (Eng) , C Sharvin (am) (Nir) , A Grant (am) (Irl) ,
73 H Joannes (Bel) , T Pilkadaris (Aus) , J Elson (Eng) , O Wilson (Eng) , S Hansen (Nor) , J Pastor (Esp) , C Mivis (Bel) , S Tiley (Eng) , S Whiffin (Eng) , L Saltman (Sco) , J Garcia Pinto (Esp) , P Price (Wal) , J Rask (Swe) , N Johansson (Swe) ,
74 J Guerrier (Fra) , P Edberg (Swe) , L Nemecz (Aut) , M McAlpin (Nir) , O Ramsnes (Nor) , R Steiner (Aut) , T Murray (Eng) , S Grant (Irl) , B Parker (Eng) , C Bouniol (Fra) , D Coupland (Eng) , B Virto (Esp) , J Timmis (Eng) , J Roos (RSA) , G Woolgar (Eng) ,
75 R Gouveia (Por) , C McNamara (Irl) , C Brazillier (Fra) , B Hebert (Fra) , A Domingo (Esp) , A Perrino (Ita) , Z Scotland (Eng) , A Gabella (Sui) , G King (Eng) , O Farr (Wal) , L Kennedy (Eng) , J Legarrea (Esp) ,
76 D Law (Sco) , O Evans (Eng) , O Stark (Swe) , R Whitson (Nir) , G Lockerbie (Eng) , N McCarthy (Eng) , N Lemke (Swe) ,
77 T Innes Ker (Sco) , J Wilson (Aus) , C Macaulay (Sco) , N Murray (Nir) , R Coles (Eng) , A Hogan (Irl) , B McCarroll (Irl) , C Campbell (am) (Nir) ,
78 S Ward (Irl) , D Geminiani (Ita) , P Widegren (Swe) , B Evans (Eng) ,
79 M Smith (Eng) , J Quinlivan (Irl) ,
81 J Kennegard (Swe) ,
** M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) , R McGee (Irl) ,
Source: European Tour