Large crowds followed McIlroy around the Glashedy Links on Thursday. Jan Kruger
Irish Open

McIlroy sparkles tee-to-green but missed putts lead to opening-round frustration

The tournament host sits three shots off the lead, which is held by New Zealand’s Ryan Fox.

Adam McKendry reports from Ballyliffin

RORY MCILROY IS three shots off the lead after the first day of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open after he opened his account with a two-under 70 at Ballyliffin.

However, the world number eight will be bitterly disappointed with how he putted on the day after he showed some excellent form from tee to green on the Glashedy Links.

McIlroy mixed two birdies and one bogey on each nine for a solid opening round, but seven missed putts inside 10 feet tells the story of a round that could have been so much better.

The Ulsterman began with three pars before taking advantage of the reachable par-five fourth for a birdie, however he gave that shot straight back at the par-three fifth after failing to get up and down.

But a stunning tee-shot on the seventh left him a short putt that fell for birdie, making the turn at one-under, which soon became two-under when he rolled home another at the 12th.

He couldn’t take advantage of 13 though, and another missed up and down on the 15th led to a dropped shot. But a two-putt birdie at the 17th ensured he would finish his round on a high.

The overnight leader will be New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, son of former All Blacks great Grant, as he blistered around Ballyliffin in a five-under 67.

A solitary bogey on 15 was the only blemish on Fox’s card as he rattled in six birdies to ensure he starts Friday at the head of the pack.

“It’s my best first round of the year, I think,” the former NI Open champion said. “Nice to see a few putts go in, that hasn’t happened for a while.

Ryan Fox Ryan Fox is leading the way. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

“I love the course, I love playing in Ireland, it’s treated me well the last few times I’ve been here, and I love the challenge of links golf and I thankfully conquered it today.”

Pádraig Harrington is one of seven players a shot behind Fox on four-under, a group that also includes Lee Westwood and former Masters champion Danny Willett.

“There was some good and bad but on a links golf course you could get away with that at times and I knew I could create some opportunities out there,” Harrington commented.

“Thankfully, my short game was good enough to handle the odd bad shot and I hit plenty of good ones.”

Graeme McDowell and Colm Moriarty sit on one-under, while Simon Thornton, Ruaidhri McGee and Shane Lowry all finished where they started at level par.

Paul McGinley, Paul Dunne and Gavin Moynihan are one-over, Cian McNamara finished at four-over and Neil O’Briain slumped to an opening round of six-over par.

Defending champion Jon Rahm is facing a battle to make the cut on two-over in a frustrating day for the Spaniard, while Rafa Cabrera Bello is four-over and Matthew Fitzpatrick is five-over.

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‘My short game was good enough to handle the odd bad shot’: Harrington one off the lead at Irish Open

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