South Africa’s Dean Burmester got the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open off to a flying start at Galgorm Castle on Thursday as he shot an opening 65 as tournament favourite Shane Lowry struggled to keep pace.
Burmester, 31, with one European Tour victory on home soil at the 2017 Tshwane Open, was in the first group out at the Co. Antrim parkland course as the rescheduled Irish Open finally got underway without spectators, four months after its original date and 345 kilometres north of its intended venue at Mount Juliet.
Covid-19 forced its postponement from May to September and Irish Government public health restrictions saw the tournament switch to a Northern Ireland host and Galgorm stepped up to the plate to stage the strangest of Irish Opens.
None of that worried Burmester as he made the turn on the par-70, 7087-yard course, softened by an early-morning downpour, in four-under 30 and then birdied his next three holes, bringing a possible round of 59 into the equation.
A par at the 13th reduced the likelihood of that magical mark and Burmester double-bogeyed the par-four 17th, making inroads into the seven-shot lead he had opened up over the other early starters. The South African signed for a still very good five-under 65 to become the European Tour event’s first clubhouse leader of the week with Martin Simonsen of Denmark and Sweden’s Niclas Lemke signing for 68s.
Lowry’s laudable efforts to play his national open, just four days after a gruelling US Open at Winged Foot, looked as if they were not going to be rewarded on Thursday as he slipped to five over par for his first 11 holes.
The Open champion, making his first competitive appearance in Ireland since becoming a major winner up the road at Royal Portrush in July 2019, had left New York on Sunday night, recovered as best as possible for two days before arriving at Galgorm Castle on Wednesday for his sole practice round on a course he had not previously played.
One birdie and six bogeys were not the return he hoped for in his bid to regain the title he had won as an amateur at Baltray in 2009 and it was left to a current amateur, Mallow’s James Sugrue, to lead the home challenge, the 2019 Amateur champion one under after 10 holes.
Four Irish golfers were set to get their first rounds underway in the afternoon wave, Padraig Harrington among them with a 1pm tee time.