Harrington leads Irish Open as Rory flounders at bottom of leaderboard

Padraig Harrington holds the lead on the opening day of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

The 2007 winner recorded a superb back-nine at Royal County Down, which featured a run of five birdies across six holes to finish with a 4-under par 67.

He is a shot clear of Denmark's Soren Hansen and Germany's Max Kieffer.

Harrington leads Irish Open as Rory flounders at bottom of leaderboard

Simon Thornton and amateur Gary Hurley are also going well on 1-under, but Shane Lowry's promising round was halted by three dropped shots over two holes to slip to 2-over.

The talking point of the opening morning was the disastrous start made by Rory McIlroy, the tournament host is bottom of the leaderboard on 9-over par after a disappointing round of 80.

McIlroy carded nine bogeys and no birdies and is in need of a brilliant second round tomorrow to avoid a third straight missed cut in the event.

Harrington leads Irish Open as Rory flounders at bottom of leaderboard

“It was not quite as difficult as I made it look,” admitted McIlroy after an opening round played in cold, blustery conditions and the occasional rain shower.

“It’s disappointing because I want to go out there and play well, not just for myself but for a lot of other people. I’ll just have to pick myself up and go out there tomorrow and shoot a good one.

“My goal will be to make some birdies, make my first birdie of the tournament at some point.”

McIlroy, who missed the cut in his defence of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last week, was supported by large galleries from the sell-out 20,000 crowd and added: “I want to give them something to cheer about and not just get sympathy claps as I got coming off the ninth green.

“I felt like I put myself in good positions off the tee but I was caught between trying to play two ways. I was hitting it well on the range, keeping it down and hitting half shots, but the wind was not up that much on the course and that led to missing greens, which led to lots of eight to 12-foot putts for par, which led to missing all of them.”

McIlroy was not alone in struggling, with playing partner and US Open champion Martin Kaymer also failing to record a single birdie in a round of 79, although the final member of the marquee group, Rickie Fowler, carded a 71 to lie two shots off the lead shared by Danny Willett and Soren Kjeldsen.

Willett, McIlroy and Fowler all played in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down, which the United States won by a single point, but Willett admitted: “It’s a lot different playing this course in a stroke play event. In match play you could just pick the ball up if you were having a bad hole!”

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