Michael Hoey carded the lowest round of his long European Tour career at the Rocco Forte Open – Verdura, Sicily as a stunning ten under par 61 moved the Northern Irishman into a share of the first round lead alongside Sweden’s Sebastian Soderberg.
Hoey, a five-time European Tour winner, last claimed a title in Russia in 2013 and has since struggled for form but he was back on a hot streak at the sun-kissed Verdura Golf Club in southern Sicily. The 38 year old came agonisingly close to a 59, narrowly missing an eagle putt at the ninth – his 17th hole – and a birdie attempt at the tenth, his last.
Soderberg, meanwhile, finished with successive birdies at the 17th and 18th to round off the best round of his fledgling European Tour career, having earned his card at Qualifying School Final Stage last November.
South African prospect Zander Lombard was a shot further back in third place courtesy of a nine under par 62, while Spain’s six-time European Tour winner Alvaro Quiros holed an ace on the 13th hole, his third, en route to an eight under par 63.
“I was hitting the driver really well and got some real close ones. I made one or two long putts the first ten, 11 holes. It felt pretty easy.
“I thought I played alright down the stretch, I just didn’t get quite as close to the pins. That (59) was all I thought about walking down the par five 12th. For me it kind of helped me to help keep me going, I didn’t feel like it stopped me. I definitely had a couple of putts the last seven holes that could have run in. Overall, great round.
“So far this season it hasn’t been quite that good. Thankfully most of the pieces fell together today. It was a really good day.
“I hit driver on every hole but the second, I think I went for every pin. When the ball striking is on it’s easy to do. It hasn’t felt that good up until this but I’ve been working on it the last couple of days and it came together today.”
“I left it in the jaws, both putts, but I was nervous. It was hard to hit them past the hole but it’s nice to be nervous because I haven’t been nervous on a golf course for quite a while and it’s exciting to be such a good score.
“We’ve had two kids and it’s been tiring. I had to have sinus surgery done a couple of years ago. I haven’t been as healthy as I wanted to be so hopefully now I can get going.
“It’s soft. If the wind gets up, Saturday, Sunday it will be very different but tomorrow I just have to try and get as many under as I can.
“It’s my best ever score by two shots, no bogeys, it doesn’t get much better. You’ve got to do everything well, they’re ideal conditions really, Sicily is a beautiful place so I’m just enjoying the week so far.
“The standard of golf is unbelievable nowadays. There’s not that much rough so you can score. It’s different from five or ten years ago, I can see the standard just improving a lot. I’m just happy that I’m on TV a bit and speaking to you guys.”
“It was solid. I just didn’t make any mistakes and stayed out of trouble and holed a few putts. The course is fair, if you hit good shots, you’re going to play good.
“There are some holes that can catch you out but a good player will play good. I just stick to my routines and my gameplan religiously and it worked out for me.
“I hit a few great shots, I hit a few iffy shots, but when I did I was still in a fine position and made good pars. It was nice to get the momentum going early in the week, it was almost flawless for me. I’m very happy.”
“I’ve been ten years on the European Tour, being one of the main guys from the Tour for a few years, top 50 in the world. Coming back to the Challenge Tour, there is nothing wrong with it as long as I recall my game.
“The reason why I’m back on the Challenge Tour is because I wasn’t good enough, simple as that. Right now I believe the Challenge Tour is the best option to get a nice job done after a year and basically trying to build up a nice swing.
“Back in 2012 I decided to improve my swing, thinking that I should be a little bit more consistent, that I should be a steadier player and it really ruined everything, technically speaking.
“Since then I had a surgery in between. I’m still working very hard, harder than ever to be honest and that was probably the most difficult thing to realise. How I’m going to handle working harder and technically in the proper way and I was moving backwards.
“Now we have been trying to come back, not to the old swing, but to fundamentals and little by little try to get a little more confidence in this swing.
“I’m not one the clever guys on Tour. I shouldn’t be looking to be more like Edoardo Molinari, a precision guy, somebody who wants to control everything, I’m not like that. That was my mistake.
“We are very pleased about the hole in one but we were not sure whether we had holed it or not. Lucky enough I hit a good shot and it ended up in the hole. A three-quarter seven iron, when I saw it I thought ‘it needs to come down’ but it’s perfect.
“I’ve had six and unfortunately none of them with a car. If I have to complain, I am officially complaining now!”
61 M Hoey (Nir) , S Soderberg (Swe) ,
62 Z Lombard (RSA) ,
63 S Heisele (Ger) , A Quiros (Esp) , J Kruger (RSA) ,
64 J Lima (Por) , D Horsey (Eng) , E De La Riva (Esp) , L Slattery (Eng) , L Haotong (Chn) ,
65 L Canter (Eng) , J Guerrier (Fra) , E Johansen (Nor) , M Armitage (Eng) , B Dredge (Wal) , T Bjørn (Den) ,
66 C Berardo (Fra) , W Ormsby (Aus) , S Henry (Sco) , P Peterson (USA) , R Wattel (Fra) , M Pavon (Fra) , O Fisher (Eng) , F Laporta (Ita) , N Johansson (Swe) , M Fraser (Aus) , C Paisley (Eng) , D Im (USA) , P Khongwatmai (Tha) , N Cullen (Aus) , P Maddy (Eng) , S Manley (Wal) ,
67 M Manassero (Ita) , J Carlsson (Swe) , G Hurley (Irl) , M Nixon (Eng) , P Tangkamolprasert (Tha) , M Foster (Eng) , R Karlberg (Swe) , E Pepperell (Eng) , A Dodt (Aus) , A Karlsson (Swe) , T Lewis (Eng) , R McEvoy (Eng) , M Weir (Can) , N Kimsey (Eng) , M Korhonen (Fin) , L Cianchetti (am) (Ita) ,
68 O Stark (Swe) , H Porteous (RSA) , F Bergamaschi (Ita) , A Connelly (Can) , D Howell (Eng) , B Evans (Eng) , R Kakko (Fin) , A Maestroni (Ita) , J Winther (Den) , L Gagli (Ita) , A Otaegui (Esp) , M Siem (Ger) , M Ford (Eng) , D Perrier (Fra) , M Wallace (Eng) , J Dantorp (Swe) , R McGowan (Eng) , J Scrivener (Aus) , A Tadini (Ita) , G Porteous (Eng) , O Lengden (Swe) , J Smith (Eng) , G King (Eng) , N Colsaerts (Bel) ,
69 J Edfors (Swe) , J Donaldson (Wal) , R Fox (Nzl) , M Lundberg (Swe) , P Gal (Cze) , T Immelman (RSA) , A Björk (Swe) , S Jamieson (Sco) , J Stalter (Fra) , J Quesne (Fra) , J Rutherford (Eng) , R Coles (Eng) , R Jacquelin (Fra) , A Saddier (Fra) , J Parry (Eng) , P Angles (Esp) , B Virto (Esp) , R Gonzalez (Arg) , D Fox (Aus) , R Echenique (Arg) , G Fortini (am) (Ita) , M Campigli (am) (Ita) , A Romano (am) (Ita) ,
70 C Hanson (Eng) , O Farr (Wal) , R Langasque (Fra) , R Dinwiddie (Eng) , M Jonzon (Swe) , A Knappe (Ger) , G Migliozzi (Ita) , A Chesters (Eng) , J Ahlers (RSA) , P Widegren (Swe) , J Fahrbring (Swe) , J Heath (Eng) , R Johnson (Swe) , R Karlsson (Swe) , N Fasth (Swe) , N Ravano (Ita) , S Webster (Eng) , E Molinari (Ita) ,
71 S Tiley (Eng) , R Bland (Eng) , L Jensen (Den) , S Forsström (Swe) , S Khan (Eng) , J Morrison (Eng) , S Dyson (Eng) , R Paratore (Ita) , O Wilson (Eng) , T Detry (Bel) , C Doak (Sco) , L Scalise (am) (Ita) ,
72 P Edberg (Swe) , F Maccario (Ita) , A Velasco (Esp) , R Saxton (Ned) , J Van Der Vaart (Ned) , C Terragni (Ita) , M Southgate (Eng) , E Di Nitto (Ita) , A Pavan (Ita) ,
73 D Brooks (Eng) , B Ritthammer (Ger) , D Huizing (Ned) , T Fisher Jnr (RSA) , J Vecchi Fossa (Ita) , T Linard (Fra) 74 N Bertasio (Ita) , R Finch (Eng) , A Zemmer (Ita) , S Gros (Fra) , M Delpodio (Ita) ,
75 M Crespi (Ita) , G Stal (Fra) , J Suri (USA) , C Lee (Sco) ,
76 D Stewart (Sco) , M Ortolani (Ita) , P Geerts (am) (Ita) ,
77 N Holman (Aus) ,
80 T Foster (Eng) ,
** M Orrin (Eng) ,