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Maybin eyes first title after Els experience

IRISHMAN Gareth Maybin is sure that his long-awaited breakthrough win on the European Tour is not far off after getting the chance to observe triple Major winner Ernie Els up close.

The Ballyclare golfer carded a three-under-par 69 to head the Irish contingent on day one of the Italian Open in Turin. It left Maybin trailing just two strokes behind the leading four of Scotland's Paul Lawrie, Australia's Marcus Fraser and the English pair of Graeme Storm and Robert Rock.

The Italian event is the 29-year old's first since sharing second place in last month's Ballantine's Championship in Korea, and a result that all but assured the retention of his automatic Tour membership for 2011.

However, it was during that final round on Jeju Island that Maybin was partnered with Els and, despite outscoring the South African by two strokes, it was an experience Maybin said was invaluable.

"I just took a lot of confidence out of playing alongside Ernie on that last day" said Maybin. "What I learnt most that day was Ernie's temperament because he was just so relaxed, and if he made a bogey or whatever he wasn't fazed. He just got on with it and he usually came back with a birdie.

"I've played with guys like Lee Westwood before and a few of the other big guys, but Ernie would have to be the best that I've played with, given the form he was in. Hopefully I can start challenging for a couple of Tour titles.

"I've now put myself in that position twice so all I can do is be patient and wait for it to happen."

Maybin's Italian Open first round was a mix of five birdies including two gems at his sixth and eighth holes where he rolled in 30-footers.

Gary Murphy carded a five-over-par 77 while a two-hour delay to the start of play because of rain meant Darren Clarke and Co Down's Simon Thornton did not get to complete their rounds. Michael Hoey withdrew after eight holes with a respiratory complaint while Italian sensation Matteo Manessaro carded a 70 on his professional debut.