Iirish Open: Familiarity helps but it offers no guarantees

It is unlikely, surely, that Rory McIlroy will be franking Pádraig Harrington’s theory about how an Irish winner is odds-on this Sunday evening, but the home stable can still boast a few other runners and riders as the Irish Open begins its second lap.

None less so than the Dubliner himself, of course, and yet it was an interesting observation by the three-time Major winner earlier, whatever the identity of the victor.

Scanning the roll of honour since the turn of the millennium doesn’t exactly strengthen his argument — previous Irish Open winners on links courses in that time frame have hailed from Finland, New Zealand and Sweden as well as Ireland and Wales.

Only Shane Lowry and Harrington himself have claimed this title since John O’Leary won with a single stroke to spare in Portmarnock in 1982, but Harrington seemed confident that the combination of this links setting and the tempestuous weather forecast would favour the local lads.

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To hear Soren Kjeldsen talk after his first round seemed to prove Harrington’s point.

The Dane grew up in the exposed northern tip of Denmark where wind is a way of life, but even he was taken aback by the elements when it was suggested that he had just played through four seasons in a day.

“Four seasons, but with rain gear and four layers, so I don’t know if you would call it four seasons,” he said. “When it’s four seasons, it’s supposed to be warm as well. It never really got warm. We saw the sun come out a couple of times, which was nice, but it never really got warm.”

Did it bother him? Not a bit. Kjeldsen’s two-under score set an early clubhouse lead with England’s Danny Willett, but the same score put together by Emiliano Grillo — a man born and raised in one of Argentina’s hottest cities and who now lives in Florida — did more to puncture the myth that locals lads have a head start on the links.

“It’s nice to be out here playing the links,” Grillo explained after finishing birdie-birdie with the latter of those being on the back of a chip to within inches of the cup on the 18th at a time when the rain was shooting in almost horizontally off the Irish Sea.

“We don’t have these kind of courses down in South America so I had to get used to it when I first got here and, you know, I love it. It’s a great thing. You have to play many different shots and you have to be on top of your game to have a good round.

“I’ve always seen it on TV, but it wasn’t that hard to, you know, figure out how to play. It was just more of around the greens and having to figure out how to make those chip shots or, you know, the greens are usually slower.” So, there you have it.

Nationality, familiarity: It may help, but it’s no lock. Graeme McDowell reached for words such as “raw”, “evil” and “beast”, though he commanded the winds far better to finish just one over.

Not that Mother Nature didn’t fool him, too. Standing on the tee at the eight, his 17th, the wind was howling as he winched up his swing, only for calm to be restored by the time he made contact. The result was an inevitable visit to the rough stuff.

“Yeah, I know,” McDowell said. “I could see the blue skies coming, you know, but in this game you just can’t stand there and wait for the weather to come through. It’s okay to back off when the odd gusts come through, but there’s no reason to not stand there and hit the shot.

“We’re very aware of that as players. I saw the blue skies coming, but it was my time to hit the golf ball and I just had to try and hit it.”

Graeme Storm, whose name and history as British Amateur Champion in these parts back in 1999 might have worked for him, finished eight-over, though Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey returned to port on level par.

Ultimately, there was no linear narrative. No way of divining the week’s path.

There seldom is.

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