Thornton and Moriarty steal the limelight from Ireland's Major players
Colm Moriarty and Simon Thornton, two players for whom this week's Irish Open is their Major championship, stole the thunder of Ireland's four Grand Slam heroes on the pristine fairways of Killarney Golf and Fishing Club yesterday.
The nation relished this week's head-on collision between British Open hero Darren Clarke and fellow Major-winners Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington, but Moriarty (67) and Thornton (68) were the home team's hottest performers in round one.
In fairness, Clarke recovered well from a bogey at the first to impressively defy a dose of 'man-flu' and thrill his admirers among 18,803 spectators at the Killeen Course with two birdies in the final three holes of a first-round 69 which left a famous Open double within his grasp.
With the Claret Jug safely in his possession, Clarke revealed he'd felt more calm than ever before mounting the first tee yesterday at the Irish Open, saying: "I didn't feel as pressurised as I have done in past Irish Opens."
This new air of self-assurance could be a valuable ally for Clarke this weekend as he tries to close the six-stroke gap to first-round leader Jeev Milkha Singh, whose flawless 63 offered clear notice of intent to the rest of the field.
Michael Hoey also shot a 69 but sadly, McDowell and Harrington are still dogged by their recent poor form.
The Portrush man described his one-over-par 72 as disappointing but "nothing disastrous", while, uncharacteristically, the Dubliner seemed downcast as he lamented his misfortune during a round of 73 which took a distinct turn for the worse with three bogeys in four holes from the 11th.
Intriguingly, the four Irish amateurs in the field -- Paul Cutler (69), Kevin Phelan (70), Alan Dunbar (72) and Dermot McElroy (72) -- collectively outscored the four Major champions by one stroke.
Moriarty (32), the former Walker Cup star from Glasson, Westmeath, once again flourished on the Irish Open stage as an impressive string of three birdies in the final four holes of his first-round 67 moved him into a share of sixth place. Thornton is one shot further back in a share of 16th place.
Like Moriarty, Thornton, who was born in Huddersfield but is long settled in Newcastle, Down, is plying his trade on the Challenge Tour this year but, after losing his card for the top flight last year, showed his golf game still is big-time.