Michael Hoey three behind at Alfred Dunhill event as Darren Clarke slumps to a 78

Michael Hoey missed 21 out of 28 cuts on this year's European Tour
Hoey lost his European Tour Card this season and then missed out at last month's qualifying school

Michael Hoey made an encouraging start to the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa as an opening three-under-par 69 left him three off the pace.

Hoey, 37, has endured a dismal 2016 and as he lost his European Tour card and then also missed out at the recent qualifying school in Spain.

However playing on a sponsor's invite in South Africa, Hoey carded an opening five-birdie 69.

A closing quadruple bogey nine saw Darren Clarke signing for a 78.

Ireland's Paul Dunne shares the lead along with Charl Schwartzel.

Dunne's 66 included eight birdies and a double bogey while 2011 Masters champion Schwartzel didn't drop a shot in his round.

The duo are a stroke ahead of a six-strong group which includes homes players Brandon Stone and Jean Hugo plus Pablo Larrazabal.

Dunne's 2015 Walker Cup team-mate Jack Hume shot an opening 73 on the Leonard Creek course.

Hoey has indicated that he will play most of the golf on the second-tier Challenge Tour in 2017 but as a five-time European Tour winner, he can expect to receive a number of invites for main tour events.

The Galgorm Castle touring professional's round at Leopard Creek on Thursday left him sharing 18th place.

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