THERE wasn’t a puff of wind on the first tee box as Hennie Otto, SSP Chowrasia and Thomas Aiken got the 3 Irish Open underway at 7am yesterday.
Even at that unearthly hour, a few diehards were pressed against the ropes to watch the trio commence the first championship in Killarney since 1992.
The first hole is a par four, 377 yards. Given it is a sharp dogleg right, the shot away is crucial. Bunkers are on the left while you cut too much to the right, a danger area of waste and marsh awaits. If you manage to split the fairway, it is an easy wedge into the green.
This is route one. Tee shot after tee shot was down the middle with the odd one finding the rough. The pin position on the first green wasn’t difficult. All seven threeballs I watched during the first hour, avoided the fairway bunkers and only one player got caught in the marsh — Argentina’s Rafa Echenique — who was the only one of those 21 players to bogey. The rest were level par while two recorded birdies.
This hole was posing little challenge, so as the sun blazed, we moved to the third.
This 200-yard par three is tricky when the wind blows in from the lakes and there is trouble on the right. Again, it was proving straightforward for the pros.
Out of the four groups I watched, four birdied and the rest were in regulation.
Was this course playing too easy? In almost two hours, I had seen only one bogey.
Paul Cutler from Portstewart is one of four amateurs in the field, and after the third hole he was two under.
He signed for a marvellous plus 2. He was one of those early risers and believes the scoring will be very good.
“Yes, I had a great start, which helped me settle because I was quite nervous. Starting well always helps. There is going to be low scoring. There are a few tough pins but the top guys should have a few better scores. My tee shot on the first was just right of where I expected it to go. I hit the driver and then had a sand wedge to the green from 75 yards. I birdied two and three. I should have birdied the first but I missed the putt.
“I had a good drive again on the second and another sand wedge the same distance as the first and knocked it in. At the third I hit a six iron to about five feet. I lost my way a bit after that, three putting for a bogey.
“I turned in level par and was happy. I missed a couple of putts at 10 and 12, I hit a couple of bad iron shots, but came back and birdied the par five 16th. I will have to shoot three or four under tomorrow (Friday) probably just to stay here. Just get the putts to drop and I should be fine.”
Local man Danny Sugrue (+3) here courtesy of the sponsor’s invitation teed off at 7.40am, just in front of Australian Richard Green, and felt the course wasn’t as easy as many predicted.
“Everything went exactly to plan — except I didn’t hole any putts on the back nine,” said the Killarney native.
“I just have to shoot under par on Friday. I don’t think they’re burning the place up.
“Everybody said it would be 20 under but that course has a bit of a bite to it. There’s a kind of a rhythm to the course that’s different. There’s only three par 3s, and they’re all very difficult. The sixth is very difficult and there’s a tough stretch of par fours there from 11, 12 and 13. So there are enough places to get caught out. Pin positions were favourable enough. They could probably play tougher all right, and probably will.
“On any day you could go out there and shoot six or seven under but once it’s roped off and there’s people around and it’s the Irish Open, it’s a different show.”
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