SO Killarney didn’t prove the pushover everyone had expected.
Though the sun shone from a blue sky, there was hardly a puff of wind and the greens were at their best, the best clubhouse score entering the early afternoon was a 65 by the Australian Richard Green.
Several of the more fancied players, including Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Justin Rose completed their deliberations in good time to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Clarke and McIlroy would have digested their meal with a degree of comfort having opened with respective rounds of 66 and 67 while Paul McGinley wasn’t complaining after signing for a 68, despite a disappointing bogey at the 18th.
However, the much-fancied Rose failed to bloom. After a birdie at the first, he ran up a double bogey at the eighth and also finished badly with dropped shots at 16 and 18 for a score of 74.
It was a fabulously enjoyable morning with impressively large galleries for the opening day following the marquee pairings and also delighting in the awesome backdrop provided by Lough Leane and the McGillycuddy’s Reeks.
Those who argued beforehand on behalf of the fans who wanted to see the pros shooting birdies and eagles were well satisfied with what ensued and there was also the satisfaction that the Killeen layout still proved a stern test.
“Richard Green is six under par, I’m at five and they’re the best of the early scores,” pointed out Clarke. “It would have been impossible to get Killarney playing any easier and they’re your leading scores. The greens here are very good but they are undulating so it’s very, very tough to read them correctly. I think you’ll see that people will be scratching their heads.”
He admitted: “I was wrong in my assessment that the scores were going to be very low. I was off the mark.
“Yes, the guys will become familiar with the golf course but there are so many places they can put the pins that we just can’t get at. I just don’t think the scoring is going to be as low as everybody thinks it is going to be.”
It wasn’t just the decent challenge presented by the course that enthused Clarke, who hasn’t been in such great form and off the golf course for a long time.
He is delighted to have received an invitation to the US PGA Championship coming on the heels of some fine recent performances and his choice as one of Europe’s Ryder Cup vice-captains has also boosted his spirits.
“I’m delighted and privileged to get that invite and it was certainly great to get it before this tournament began.
“And it was a brilliant crowd out there.
“Killarney is one of the most beautiful places in Ireland and with such good galleries and playing with Rory (McIlroy) and Rhys (Davies), it doesn’t really get better than this.”
Clarke went on to shoot five birdies and keep a five off his card before further defending the merits of Killarney to host an Irish Open.
“This course is worthy of this championship,” he declared.
“The Irish Open has always been perceived by the guys on Tour as one of the greatest crowds and great fun and a tournament we all want to play.
“Those pictures being beamed around the world is a huge boost. We are all very proud to be playing here this week and Killarney thus far has been fantastic for us.”
Apart from his inevitable appointment as one of the Ryder Cup vice captains, McGinley hasn’t had much to celebrate this year but there were signs in yesterday’s 68 that he may be about to reverse the trend. He was disappointed at taking a bogey at the last having driven into sand but this time the good certainly outweighed the bad.
“I was hot on the front nine with a little flourish on the 6th and 7th getting down twice from 215 yards with a four iron,” he explained. “I hit it to fifteen feet on the sixth and to a foot at the seventh, so three under for two holes was good and set me up nicely.”
McGinley insisted that he wasn’t surprised that six under was the best score returned by the early starters and rubbished the belief expressed over the previous few days that 60 would be broken this week.
“There are a lot of tough holes out there and a lot of tough pin positions. But if the weather stays good, the scoring will get better as the week goes on.
“It’s about time we had some decent weather for the Irish Open and there’s nowhere better or more beautiful than Killarney.”
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