By Brendan O’Brien, Portstewart
Over a hundred players under par after the first day of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on the Causeway Coast and yet Rory McIlroy isn't one of them.
Lengthy odds would have been available on just that unlikely scenario before the first groupings teed off at the Strand Course early on Thursday morning but there is no shortage of ‘local’ players better poised to make a push for the line after the opening 18.
Portush’s Graeme McDowell made the most of his local knowledge to card a five-under 67 and he was joined as leading Irishman by Wicklow’s Paul Dunne after a scrambled but bogey-free round and Dubliner Gavin Moynihan whose only blemish was a bogey on the par-four second.
Shane Lowry, Michael Hoey and Padraig Harrington were all tucked in just a shot behind. France’s Benjamin Hebert and Daniel Im of the USA held the overnight lead with eight-under on a day that was mostly dry and calm.
A clutch of other notable names are hovering around the summit with Spain’s Jon Rahm on six-under and Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Rose a shot further back. Low scores will continue to be posted if the weather plays ball.
“I don’t know if I’m quite in the mix with four-under par,” said Harrington after his round. “It’s a nice, decent score. It was average … The likelihood is that you’ve got to be focused on 20-under par or more this week and four-under is okay but I need better scores later on this week.”
McIlroy, defending champion after his win at the K Club 12 months ago, never managed to break into red figures and ended the day on level par, coming in with eleven straight pars and admitting afterwards to a feeling of frustration at the first day of an event hosted by his Rory Foundation.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to get this course much easier,” said the world number four. “There were so many scoring opportunities out there with loads of wedges into the par-fours and four par-fives that were all very reachable.
“I just didn’t … I gave myself a few chances but I just didn’t get anything going. Just couldn’t get any momentum. I was trying my hardest out there and, yeah, just one of those days where I just couldn’t quite get it going.”
McIlroy felt he hit the ball well. That included his much-discussed putting but he knows that it will likely take three rounds in the mid-60s now if he is to have any chance of becoming the first Irishman to retain his home title.
Even that may not be near enough.
“I’m not chasing any number. I just want to go out there and play good golf and if I hit fairways, hit greens, keep giving myself chances and take a few of them then I’d say by the end of the day tomorrow somewhere close to twelve-under will probably be leading this golf tournament.”