Northern Ireland Open: Michael Hoey predicts birdie fest at Galgorm

NI Open trials new format for 2017 tournament

Soft conditions at Galgorm Castle will ensure "target golf" when the Northern Ireland Open starts on Thursday, Michael Hoey says.

Tournament ambassador Hoey has been drawn with Chase Koepka, brother of US Open winner Brooks, and Spaniard Borja Virto for the first two rounds.

Koepka is the leading player in the Challenge Tour rankings in the field, occupying ninth place.

"It's going to be target golf given it's so wet under foot," said Hoey.

He added: "The rough is pretty wet but I don't think it is quite as long as last year, although you certainly want to keep the ball on the fairway as much as possible."

The conditions could well mean that lift, clean and place will be in operation, in order to keep play moving, as opposed to players looking for rulings at regular intervals.

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Hoey will tee off at 13:10 BST with another attractive three-ball off next as Argentina's Estanislao Goya, 12th in the order of merit, begins his challenge alongside Austrian Lukas Nemecz and 16th-placed Wentworth professional Steven Brown.

Local Ballymena man Dermot McElroy starts from the first at 13:50 with England's John Parry and Denmark's Martin Ovesen.

Fit-again Castledawson player Chris Selfridge is among the early starters as he plays alongside Belgian Christopher Mivis and Welshman Mark Laskey.

Mivis is 15th in the Road to Oman standings and that will be enough to secure his full European Tour card for next season if he can remain in the top 15 by the season's end.

Moynihan hopeful

Ireland's Gavin Moynihan is less than 5,000 euros (£4,520) outside the top 15 as he sits 22nd in the rankings and will have high hopes this week after finishing in a share of 14th at last month's Irish Open at Portstewart.

That earned Moynihan the biggest cheque of his career as he took home 84,505 euros (£76,365) and he is optimistic about his chances this week.

"I didn't really play too well here last year so I'm keen to get back out there and try to redeem myself really, because I really like the golf course," said the Dubliner, beaten in the final of the Challenge Tour Match Play event in Spain in May.

Meath man Damien McGrane will tee up at the 10th alongside recent Challenge Tour winners Paul Howard and Joel Girrbach at 08:10 while Ardglass man Cormac Sharvin will have 2015 Northern Ireland Open winner Frenchman Clement Sordet in his three-ball as they start on the back nine at 08:30.

The list of former European Tour winners in the field includes five-time champion Hoey, McGrane, Simon Thornton and Welshman Rhys Davies, plus Englishmen Richard Finch and Oliver Wilson, who will begin on the back nine at 13:50.

Finch's two European Tour victories include the Irish Open nine years ago, while 2008 European Ryder Cup player Wilson won the prestigious Dunhill Links Championships in Scotland as recently as October 2014.