Irish Open: Headline stars Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy keep home fans happy with strong starts

Lowry shoots 68, McIlroy shoots 69 on a beautifully sunny day at The K Club

Shane Lowry of Ireland plays his second shot on the ninth hole during Day One of the Horizon Irish Open at The K Club. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty

The perfect storm on a beautifully, sunny day, as the Horizon Irish Open’s opening round saw two of its headline acts perform: Shane Lowry opened with a four-under-par 68, Rory McIlroy with a birdie-birdie finish for a 69; and the roars of approval from the huge galleries who flocked to the Straffan venue only served to underscore what it meant to them as much as the players.

As Englishmen Jordan Spieth and Ross Fisher and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn signed for 66s, six-under, to claim the early clubhouse lead, the endeavours of both Lowry and McIlroy provided the stardust that was sprinkled everywhere.

Lowry, with all the pressures lifted off his shoulders after getting a wild card pick from Luke Donald for the Ryder Cup in Rome later this month, certainly seemed to be re-energised and the opening birdie – on the Par 5 10th, his starting hole – got him off to fine start.

“I know the Ryder Cup is very close but if you’re thinking too much about it [it can distract]. You need to focus on this week and next week [the BMW Championship] and try to set some goals for these weeks and achieve those. This is a big week for me and I am always a little bit anxious going into the tournament. I did a lot of things pretty well and I am happy with my morning’s work.”


Lowry turned in 35, two-under, and then moved to five-under with birdies on the first, third and fourth – where he hit a wonderful 5-wood approach over the flag and two putted from the back of the green – before dropping a shot on the difficult 7th, where his tee shot strayed right into the hazard.

However, Lowry bounced back brilliantly with a tee-shot to five feet on the Par 3 eighth to get back to within two of the early leaders.

Billy Horschel and Rory McIlroy on the 9th tee at the K Club. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

For McIlroy, a strong finish – recovering from a dropped shot on the seventh where he, like Lowry, found the water right – with birdies on the eighth and ninth enabled him to get off to a solid start.

“I think the two birdies in the last two holes sort of glossed over what was a pretty average day,” admitted McIlroy, the world number two who is playing for the first time since the Tour Championship, the finale to the FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour.

McIlroy added: “I didn’t really feel great with anything. In fairness, I actually felt pretty good over the putter which is nice. It’s hard to say I’m rusty when I’ve only had a week off but I just haven’t had a chance to practise much and I just hit a few loose shots out there. I managed my game well and scraped it around in three-under which is nice and sort of gets me in the tournament.”

Bjorn, a 15-time winner on the European Tour, but not since lifting the Nedbank Challenge a decade ago, rolled back the years as the 52-year-old Dane claimed seven birdies and a lone bogey, which came on the ninth, his closing hole.

“I’m fortunate, I’ve played this golf course so many times. It’s a long time ago; we played here every year [in the Smurfit European Open], but it’s always been the same fairways and greens. I drove it very well today. I drove it in the middle of the fairway. I think I missed one fairway in this round of golf, and then this golf course becomes a lot easier to deal with,” explained Bjorn of his blast from the past.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times