Slow start for home hopefuls
McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke all some way back at Royal Portrush
Last Updated: June 28, 2012 10:41pm
While the huge galleries may have come to see their home heroes at Royal Portrush, it was Jeev Milkha Singh and Gregory Bourdy who shared the first-round lead at the first Irish Open in Northern Ireland since 1953.
Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke - whose major success helped to bring the event back across the border - may have been the draw cards, but none was able to break 70 on a wet and windy opening day that saw a 95-minute delay because of the inclement weather.
Instead it was India's Singh and Bourdy of France who claimed the overnight lead as they posted fine 65s to lead by one on seven-under-par by the close of play.
"The atmosphere and the feel to the golf course is fantastic," said 40-year-old Singh. "When you have so many people cheering and watching you I think you feel great."
Behind the leading duo is a six-strong group on on six-under that includes Englishmen Andrew Marshall and Mark Foster and Australian Matthew Zions.
"It was just amazing out there," Foster commented. "I got a six o'clock car to the course and, I kid you not, there were people queueing to get in - even though the rain was coming sideways.
"I've never seen a buzz in the players' lounge like there is this week. People are raving about the course and the size of the crowds."
It is the first time organisers put the "sold out" signs up for a regular European Tour event, with 27,000 tickets purchased for each day's play.
McDowell was the first of the three local heroes into action, but hitting a pitch into bushes for a double-bogey seven on the 581-yard 17th - his eighth - took the wind out of his sails and he had to settle for a one-under 71.
First round leaderboard
(GB & Irl unless stated)
-7 G Bourdy (Fra)
-7 JM Singh (Ind)
-6 E Dubois (Fra)
-6 O Floren (Swe)
-6 M Foster
-6 M Ilonen (Fin)
-6 A Marshall
-6 M Zions (Aus)Click here for collated scores
Clarke, yet to make his first halfway cut of the year and out for the past month with a groin strain, contented himself with matching that after a hat-trick of bogeys had left him two-over after eight.
World number two McIlroy, meanwhile, reached four-under, but three-putted the 16th and 18th in what he called "a sloppy finish" and signed for a 70.
Dubliner Padraig Harrington, playing with McDowell and equally thrilled at seeing the tournament come north, pitched in from around 60 yards for birdie on his penultimate hole and with a 67 is firmly in the hunt.
Alongside the three-time major champion at five-under are his playing partner Simon Dyson, in-form Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and recent Wales Open winner Thongchai Jaidee.
Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal and Scot Paul Lawrie - playing together for the third time in under two months - both shot 69.
Another former Open champion, American John Daly, was in the first group out at 7.30am and returned a 71. Asked if he was a good early riser he replied: "I am now. I get up when I used to get in!"
Much to everyone's relief, the event resumed in bright sunshine after the stoppage and the round was completed.
Bourdy did not finish until 8.40pm and would have been outright leader if he had birdied the long ninth, but he parred it.