Home fans in for a treat at Irish Open
Irish golf fans have a special interest in the current form of top international stars as the date of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open draws ever closer - and it augurs well for Royal County Down when the tournament starts on Thursday week.
Last Sunday Rickie Fowler, a big favourite of the galleries in the USA, and likely to impress in Ireland, snatched The Players Championship title in a dramatic play-off.
Fowler has taken a break this week for the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, and will be fresh for the Irish Open.
Yesterday, home hero Padraig Harrington continued his rise in form with a battling two under par 70.
And to cap it all, Rory McIlroy and American Ryder Cup player Patrick Reed played alongside each other in round one and will look to spark some fireworks today.
Reed is another big name booked for Royal County Down, and his friendship with McIlroy was central to his decision to play the Irish Open.
Texan Reid, 25, a winner of four PGA Tour titles, came out on top of the threeball, which included Ben Martin, notching up eight birdies and two bogies en route to a closing 66.
McIlroy, who spent time on Wednesday with his putting coach Dave Stockton, improved his work on the greens compared with last Sunday at Sawgrass and had to settle for 70.
The performance was solid rather than spectacular by McIlroy who was going reasonably well at four under par when his 8-iron to the 178 yards par-3 17th fell slightly short and rebounded from the rock face in front of the green into water.
That led to a frustraing double-bogey five, and his dropping down the leaderboard.
On the 18th, his drive finished in the left rough, but he managed to save his par from there.
Harrington, the only other Irish player in the field, felt he had a 'strange' opening round after his two under par 70.
"It was a strange day for me. Last week I played really well and putted terrible. I was last in putting last week, but I putted unbelievable today and didn't play so well.
"But isn't that golf?" he said.
Harrington and McIlroy were five shots adrift of the early pacesetter Robert Streb who filed an impressive 65, seven under par.
Meanwhile, on the Challenge Tour, Ireland's Ruaidhri McGee shot 67, four-under par, to lead the Made in Denmark Challenge at Royal GC, Copenhagen.
McGee was one shot ahead of Briton Jack Senior, with Italy's Nino Bertasio, Sweden's Oskar Henniggson and Portugal's José Filipe Lima a further shot back.
Said McGee: "I have prepared well for the season this year in America and Portugal.
"The biggest change I made over the winter was I have gone meat-free and it has made a big difference."
On the main Tour, South Africa's Trevor Fisher Jnr shot a seven-under-par 65 to lead the Open de Espana at El Prat by one from England's Tommy Fleetwood, Eduardo De La Riva of Spain and Darren Fichardt (South Africa).
Best of the Irish was Michael Hoey with 71. Peter Lawrie, the 2008 winner of this tournament, was on 74 and Damien McGrane shot 76, while home favourite Sergio Garcia had a 75.
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