McDowell hopes to continue building momentum at Fota

Finland’s Mikko Ilonen leads by two after day one of Irish Open after seven-under 64

Graeme McDowell plays his tee shot on the 11th hole  during the first round of the Irish Open at Fota Island. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Graeme McDowell plays his tee shot on the 11th hole during the first round of the Irish Open at Fota Island. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 10:19

Some golfers are superstitious, to the point of using a special coin as a ball marker or down to wearing specific coloured socks. The shoe is on the other foot with Graeme McDowell, who hopes that appearing in his 13th Irish Open here at a sun-kissed Fota Island will prove to be a lucky omen in his quest to claim a first win in the championship.

In near-perfect conditions, a rainbow coalition of nationalities manoeuvred into position towards the business end of the leaderboard. A Finn. A German. Two Swedes. An Italian. A Dutchman. A Dane. And then those hanging fervently to their coat-tai, among them the leading Irishmen, McDowell and Michael Hoey, who each shot rounds of 68, three-under-par.

Mikko Ilonen, from Finland, led the way with a 64, seven-under, to take a two-stroke lead over Sweden’s Robert Karlsson and Magnus A Carlsson and Germany’s Marcel Siem, who had the notable distinction of coming home in a mere 29 strokes. Indeed, the birdie fest – such as it was – created a wonderful atmosphere for the near 17,000 official attendance.

Of course, not everyone found it as easy as they would have wished. Rory McIlroy, for one, had a difficult time adjusting from the grind at the US Open. The birdies were hard found for the Northern Irishman, who could only muster a 74 to immediately put himself on the back foot in his attempt to make the cut, never mind get into contention.

Transatlantic journey

McDowell also made the transatlantic journey from North Carolina, in his case adding in a detour to Hoylake for a reconnaissance visit ahead of next month’s British Open. His body clock hasn’t quite readjusted fully just yet, as evidenced by having to familiarise himself with driving on the left-hand side of the road again and, perhaps more pertinently in his bid to add the Irish Open to his impressive CV, a couple of loose shots in the first round.

On the 17th hole, for instance, McDowell’s tee shot to the 222 yards par 3 came up almost 60 yards short of the flag.

“My body didn’t feel like my own, I was not feeling 100 per cent . . . I just went asleep on 17. I was trying to beat a 5-iron and my tired legs just literally gave way. It was just a good, old-fashioned laid-the-sod-over, just a really bad shot,” he admitted.

On another day, that poor shot might have had McDowell in bad mood. Not yesterday, though. It was the one poor shot he hit coming in – leading to a bogey – but, against that, he managed birdies at the 15th, 16th and 18th holes. On that finishing par 5, McDowell obviously recovered sufficient strength in his legs as he produced a finishing par that was “pleasing”.

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