It’s a logjam atop the leaderboard at the European Tour’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open as three competitors—Dean Burmester, Jordan Smith and Aaron Rai—are tied for the lead. Each man shot an opening round 5-under par 65 at the Galgorm Castle Golf Club in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.

South Africa’s Burmester got off to a fast start early in the day and found himself at 7-under after 12 holes. At that point, he had a chance to join Oliver Fisher as the only men in European Tour history with a round of 59. Liam Johnston came close on Sept. 10, posting a 61 at the Portugal Masters.

Alas, it was not to be, and a double bogey at No. 17 torpedoed Burmester’s chances of achieving the elusive mark.

“For 16 holes, I played flawless golf pretty much,” said the 31-year old. “I didn’t really miss a shot.

“A couple of great up and downs kept the momentum going and then unfortunately on 17 I fell asleep over a three-footer but other than that, honestly I played great.”

Burmester’s misstep left the door open for someone else to catch him. Smith and Rai did just that.

The Irish Open

Aaron Rai putts on the 18th during day one of the Irish Open at Galgorm Castle Golf Club, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A 27-year old Englishman, Smith had managed five top-40 finishes in eight events since the COVID-19 shutdown, and he kept things rolling at Galgorm Castle. In fact, he was one of only two players to avoid a bogey, and his five birdies catapulted him into a share of the clubhouse lead.

“I am happy with today,” Smith said. “I need to go work on my driving a little bit and holing out but apart from that, very happy.

“It is all weather dependent. If it stays like this it is going to be a challenge for everyone including myself, so more of the same, more good golf, and see how it goes.”

Rai, also from England, is the youngest of the three leaders. At 25 years of age, he made a relatively late charge with four birdies on the back nine. Although Rai was unable to take command on the par-5 18th, he was the only other player to go bogey-free on the day.

Sole possession of fourth place belongs to yet another Englishman, Toby Tree. His up-and-down performance, which included four birdies, two bogeys and an eagle, was ultimately good enough for 4-under par at 66.

Irish amateur James Sugrue is playing well on home soil. He leads his countrymen with a first-round 67 and sits T-3 with four other athletes: John Catlin (United States), Stephen Gallacher (Scotland), and the Swedish duo of Oscar Lengden and Rikard Karlberg.

Burmester will again start early at 2:40 a.m. ET, the first of Friday’s tee times. Smith will follow at 4:45 a.m., and Rai much later at 8:55 a.m. Golf Channel’s coverage will run from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

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