Rory McIlroy off the pace despite memorable escape at Irish Open
Rory McIlroy pulled off what he called "one of the best shots I've ever hit" today, but was left wishing he had produced another on the last hole when the Irish Open began at Killarney.
Playing his first tournament on home soil since his runaway US Open victory in June, the 22-year-old saved par on the 14th after a spectacular hook round the trees from deep rough.
But, three under par and only one off the lead with one to play, McIlroy went from a fairway bunker into water and double-bogeyed.
As he signed for only a one-under 70 Swede Niclas Lemke, in the event only because of his third-placed finish in the Scandinavian Masters on Sunday, went to five under on the 17th.
It put him one ahead of defending champion Ross Fisher, Australian left-hander Richard Green and Ireland's Colm Moriarty, himself in the field thanks to a sponsor's invitation.
With new Open champion Darren Clarke and three-major winner Padraig Harrington among the later starters - Clarke bogeyed the first hole - and last year's US Open champion Graeme McDowell managing only a 72, McIlroy had the chance to set a really challenging total.
"At four under through 10 things were going along quite nicely," he said, "but I didn't drive it great all day and I played some scrappy golf coming in."
The approach to the 14th was a notable exception to that - "all I was trying to do was get it in the front bunker" he commented on a 130-yard shot to within 20 feet of the flag that he had to move nearly 50 yards right to left.
"My driving caught up with me at the end. I just need to be more decisive on the tees - I was stuck in two minds."
McDowell commented: "It was a funny day. I didn't hit it in the fairway much and didn't make much on the greens and then after birdies at 14 and 15 steadied the ship I was a yard in the gorse on the (par five) next and made bogey.
"It was nothing disastrous I suppose and I'm not out of it by any means."
Lemke's closing bogey meant he only shared top spot with Fisher, Green, Moriarty and also Denmark's former winner Soren Hansen, who still had two to play.