Conor O’Neil fed off one of his playing partners making a “hot start” to take pride of place among the Scottish contingent in the opening round of the PGA EuroPro Tour Championship in Spain, writes MARTIN DEMPSTER.
It’s win or bust for O’Neil, one of eight Scots in the field, in the 54-hole season finale on the second-tier circuit at Desert Springs, where five Challenge Tour cards are up for grabs.
He came into the tournament sitting 25th on the money-list with earnings of just over £7500, meaning that only a champion’s cheque worth £22,540 can secure him a step up for next season.
The opening day at the Almeria venue belonged to Swede Mikael Lundberg as the former European Tour player carded an impressive eight-under-par 64 to open up a three-shot advantage.
But, in testing conditions, O’Neil, who qualified for last year’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at Gullane, is sitting handily placed in a share of second spot after signing for six birdies and just one dropped shot.
“I’m pleased with that,” said the Glasgow man. “In these 54-hole events, it is important to get off to a fast start and I was just trying to catch up with James Allan after he made a hot start. It got pretty windy and par 3s are long. It is a case of trying to build your score early and try and hold on coming in. I wouldn’t knock back another five-under tomorrow.”
Calum Fyfe was next best among the tartan contingent with a 68, two shots better than Daniel Young, who sits eighth in the card battle after winning the Eagle Orchid Scottish Masters in Aviemore earlier in the year.
Both needing to finish in the top two to secure cards, Capital duo James Ross and Neil Fenwick were slow out of the blocks as they had to settle for matching 73s. In efforts that left them in a tie for 32nd, Ross was one-under before dropping three shots in a row on the back nine while Fenwick had a mixed card of three birdies and four bogeys.
Jack McDonald, a winner at Newmachar in the final regular event of the season, opened with a 71, while Paul McKechnie and Ryan Campbell had to settle for 74 and 75 respectively.