Rose and Donaldson share the early running
Justin Rose has never played this course before. Or rather, as he wryly corrected his inquisitor in the press room after a 67 left him tied for the lead with Welshman Jamie Donaldson, he has never played this course well before.
His only recorded round before yesterday was Wednesday’s pro-am, at which his fourball finished a single shot ahead of dead last place. “Didn’t have a birdie all day,” he harrumphed. “So it was a lot of fun.”
Well he had six yesterday, with only one bogey to drag them down.
Donaldson had the same. On a day when a nagging desert wind kept the reins tight on a quality field, their 67s were enough to have them steal a lead. One shot further back were Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen and Spain’s Pablo Larazabal, with a group of five on three-under. In all 31 players broke par, although just over half of them did so by just a solitary stroke.
“I think if I’m completely honest, I didn’t have it completely under control today with the long game,” said Rose. “It didn’t feel perfect.
But I think that was the nature of the day. It was very difficult to hit every shot perfectly out there. I think it was the kind of day that you have to accept that there are going to be mistakes.
“I don’t think you are going to get a lot of clean rounds out there. The set-up is very, very difficult. Clearly, with a lot of crosswinds, the fairways are hard to hit and the rough is punishing.”
Irish players mostly found themselves buried in the middle of the pack. Gareth Maybin was the only one to break par, although he was kicking himself because his 71 would have been much better had he not bogeyed the last on the front nine and the last two on the back. Peter Lawrie, Michael Hoey and Pádraig Harrington finished on level par, Harrington benefiting from no fewer than three chip-ins during his round.
“I missed a few short ones today which I haven’t been doing,” said Harrington. “The greens were tough. I was very happy with what I saw last week, I’m happy with what I have this week. I couldn’t be hitting it better.
“The greens were lightning fast with that wind this afternoon drying them out. You only have to touch the ball and it rolls.
“ The pins weren’t that tight but if you miss the green it’s hard to keep it short of the flag.
“It’s a really good test with that wind. It was pretty tough. There wouldn’t have been that many scores under par in the afternoon.
“ You had to battle to get the right direction of the wind, the speed of the wind and getting it close was tough. The greens were fast but at least they were soft. If they had been firm, there would have been mayhem.”
Further down, the other Irish players will have a job on today to make the cut. Shane Lowry started the day with back-to-back birdies but didn’t pick up a shot for the rest of the round, posting four bogeys and two doubles for a round of 78.
Darren Clarke fared even worse, coming home in 43 for a 79. And newly-minted Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley struggled all day for his 76, although the beaming smile he is carrying around with him all week told of a man who is still on cloud nine. “I’m on a complete high, still thrilled I have to say,” he said.
McGinley revealed that of the 467 text messages of congratulations he has received since Tuesday night, one came from Mickey Harte, a man who he has never met. “I would love to sit down with him,” said McGinley, the proud son of a Donegal man. “Although I’m going to have to wait until after Donegal play Tyrone in Ulster, in case I’m accused of any bias.”