WHEREAS young guns Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry delighted themselves and the many Irish fans at St Andrews yesterday and others like Darren Clarke, 70, Graeme McDowell, 71 and Colm Moriarty and Gareth Maybin, both 72, were reasonably happy with their scores, it all became something of a trial for two times former winner Pádraig Harrington.
The 2007 and ‘08 champion was out early in the day and was the focus of massive attention within five minutes of leaving the first tee. He hit his approach to the green “fat” and into the Swilcan Burn fronting the green. He dramatically jumped across the six foot wide stretch of the burn, much to the amusement of the BBC television cameras and the apprehension of his many fans looking on. Fortunately, he avoided a second visit to the watery grave but still ran up a double bogey six at one of the easiest holes on the golf course.
He never subsequently got his round going and even though he insisted that he was still happy with the state of his game, it was a claim difficult to understand given that he shot one over par 73 in the most favourable of conditions at a time when virtually everyone else was burning up the Old Course and Rory McIlroy was on his way to a championship record equalling 63. ! Harrington is already 10 shots out of the lead and forced to admit that “I now need three rounds in the 60s.” There’s no arguing with that but it was baffling to hear him maintain that “there were a lot of good shots out there, it was just more a question of I didn’t hole putts and hit a couple of bad chip shots.”
In contrast life is getting better and better for big Shane Lowry. Not only is he stringing a series of very commendable rounds together but he is also becoming something of a crowd favourite. He got a great reception from the masses lining the final fairways and from the packed grandstands when he became the first man to drive the green at the 357 yards 18th.
He shaved the hole with his putt from 20 feet before tapping in for his sixth birdie to complete a hugely satisfactory first round in a major championship.
“This was probably the best I’ve hit the ball in a few weeks,” he enthused. “I hit some really good iron shots coming in at 15, 16, 17. I did leave a few out there and was maybe a little unlucky to miss that last putt. But four under is a good start.
“I wasn’t too confident going out but got into the rhythm of things pretty quickly. I said to Dermot (Byrne), my caddie, walking down the 17th and 18th how I’d watched the Open on television for years and here I was, hitting it to 20 feet off the tee on the last — it’s the stuff that dreams are made of. And he said to me, if you ever had any doubts about being able to compete at this level, you’ve shown today that you’re well up to it.”
Graeme McDowell described it as a “day of two halves.” Over breakfast, he saw a whole host of players dipping way below par and most significantly Rory McIlroy. As he admitted laconically, “it is always intimidating to start out knowing there’s already someone nine ahead of you, especially when that someone is such a seriously talented golfer as Rory.”
The new US Open champion admitted that he went on to putt poorly for 12 holes and spoke of how his two bogeys “were the result of clumsy three putts from close range.” But he did finish strongly and believes one under par leaves him in a reasonable position going out early this morning.
“I have rested up well and physically I feel fine but it’s different mentally because I just can’t get Pebble Beach out of my mind,” he said. “People keep coming up to me all day, every day, to congratulate me. Of course I appreciate it but it’s time to move on and it’s not easy to do so.”
Darren Clarke was reasonably satisfied with a two under par 70. He said: “I’m very comfortable with what I’m doing in my game and I hit a lot of really good shots out there today. This morning, with the weather conditions, there was an opportunity to get it close and give yourself lots of chances. I did — but I didn’t convert them.”
Colm Moriarty from Athlone has come off the Challenge Tour to rub shoulders with the big boys and acquitted himself admirably, especially early on. Birdies at the 3rd and 10th moved him nicely to two under par but he was unable to quite keep it going in the freshening right to left wind on the way home and bogeys followed at the 14th and 16th.
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