Michael McGeady sits one shot off the lead after the opening round of the Northern Ireland Open Challenge presented by Clannah and XJET. 

The Derry man hit nine birdies on his way to a six-under-par 65 at the European Challenge Tour event at the Galgorm Castle Golf Club.

McGeady shares third place behind early leaders Bernd Ritthammer and James Ruth who shot opening rounds of seven under 64.

Neil O'Briain and amateur Dermot McElroy are next best of the Irish on four under in a share of 15th place, while Gareth Shaw, who finished fifth at this year's Irish Open, is a further shot back on three under.

Former amateur star Alan Dunbar and Jonathan Caldwell also shot three under in the opening round at the Ballymena venue, with Colm Moriarty and Niall Kearney posting two under rounds.

Tournament host and five-time European Tour winner, Michael Hoey, hit one-under, while Ruaidhri McGee also opened with an under-par 70.

Last week’s Challenge Tour Champion Jen Dantorp joined McGeady on six-under alongside Andrew McArthur and Ross McGowan.

Former European Tour winner Nick Dougherty and Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson also responded to the large galleries, producing a pair of five under 66s to join Thomas Norretm Ross Kellett and Jamie McLeary on the clubhouse leaderboard.

But it was Ritthammer who produced the best of the morning scores, after which he was naturally delighted.

“It was a lot of fun to play out there in front of some great crowds,” said Ritthammer. “This tournament has been brilliantly organised and to be playing in front of so many people at a Challenge Tour event is pretty cool.

“We just don’t get that many people coming out to see us on the Challenge Tour and it is great to be able to play in front of a big crowd who are all very knowledgeable about the game. When you play anywhere in Britain or Ireland, you know the people who are watching you appreciate good golf shots and they also know when you hit a poor shot.

“Today on the last I played this really tricky flop shot over a bunker and I played it well and the crowd responded. It is a great feeling when you do that and hopefully I can keep doing it over the next three days.

“The crowd certainly had a positive effect on me today. I think most professionals would like to be play in front of people all the time – we all want to entertain people with good shots and it helps me to focus and to play well.

“I have been playing well recently and not really getting the results the game has deserved, so hopefully today was the start of a very good week.”