Irish Open: Herbert hot to trot but home heroes yet to spark

Colm Moriarty leads Irish challenge, four behind Lucas Herbert

  Around 2,500 fans were allowed in for the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Mount Juliet. Photograph:   Warren Little/Getty Images

Around 2,500 fans were allowed in for the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Mount Juliet. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

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The bolters came from left and right and literally from everywhere, as the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open - played in beautifully sunny conditions and with barely a breath of wind to pose any conundrums on club selection - delivered something of a birdie fest for those 2,500 spectators allowed in attendance on the Co Kilkenny estate as part of the government’s pilot scheme to re-introduce some noise and energy to sporting events.

And, while many of those fortunate enough to have obtained golden tickets to be present in the flesh giddily followed the marquee groups headlined by Irish Major champions Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, around the tree-lined course, it was 25-year-old Australian Lucas Herbert who delivered lowest round of eight-under-par 64 to assume the first round lead.

Herbert, whose only previous win on tour came in last year’s Dubai Desert Classic, edged into a one stroke lead over American Johannes Veerman with Scotland’s Grant Forrest a stroke further back in third. There followed a logjam of no less than 15 players - among them Tommy Fleetwood and Martin Kaymer - in tied-fourth.

Indeed, the birdies were aplenty; and greeted with actual roars rather than silence. Yet, as if to underscore how golf has the capacity to regenerate dreams in older limbs, it was 42-year-old Colm Moriarty rather than Lowry or McIlroy who took on the role of heading the home challenge after escaping with a bogey on the 18th after a poor drive to ultimately sign for a fine 68, in tied-19th.

“It’s a young man’s game with the distance these guys hit the ball now, but it’s interesting that the older guys still seem to be competitive. We’ve all been playing so much competitive golf since we were so young that the competitiveness never leaves you. You want to come here and do well, and you want to prepare well. You might play well, or you might now, but that competitive spirit always burns bright,” said Moriarty, who earned his place in the field off the Irish PGA Region order of merit.

For sure, he has soldiered on tours - mainly the Challenge and mini-tours - in the past, and even played alongside Louis Oosthuizen for the opening two rounds of the 2010 British Open at St Andrews which the Springbok won (Moriarty finishing 37th). But their paths moved in different directions thereafter and, these days, Moriarty is ranked 1,900th in the world rankings and doing his day job at Glasson Golf Club where lessons are an important part of what he does.

“It’s just trying to balance everything. You just can’t expect to pitch up in these events and give it a whirl kind of thing. You have to put the prep in because obviously it is a big step up in standard. It’s been an interesting year with a few of the older guys doing a bit better (Richard Bland winning the British Masters, Jonathan Caldwell the Scandianvian Mixed),” said Moriarty.

Only three Irishmen managed to dip under par on a day when birdies seemed to come readily to many others. Moriarty’s 68 was the best of the home challengers, Shane Lowry signing for a 70 that promised so much more and Niall Kearney, continuing his decent form of late, bringing home a 71 with McIlroy one further back.

For Lowry, so much of the game seemed in synch and a 70 was about as bad a score as he could have managed. True, his cause wasn’t helped by a lost ball on the Par 5 fifth, his 14th hole of the round, where an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration proved costly.

“Obviously I did what I did. We were waiting on the tee and we were having a chat and I lost focus and lost concentration, which I was really, really disappointed with because I don’t like doing that. I don’t like giving away shots... it was disappointing because it was the only real bad shot I hit all day. I felt I played pretty good,” said Lowry.

Lowry was pragmatic about it all, with no sackcloth and ashes penitence. “My game’s been good. It’s Thursday. It’s not Sunday. So, it’s going to be a long week... you hit good shots, you get rewarded.”

Herbert, ranked 91st in the world, made his way to the top of the leaderboard in some style with a closing salvo of three successive birdies on greens he claimed to be among the best he has ever played on. Based on the PGA Tour in recent months, with a best finish of tied-18th in the Memorial, Herbert remarked: “It’s always fun when you come out and play some firm, fast golf courses. Coming from America, the rough is not as thick as probably we’ve been used to but it is definitely up enough to make you interested.”

Rory McIlroy tees off on the first hole.
Rory McIlroy tees off on the first hole.

Collated first round scores 
(Gbr & Irl unless stated, Irish in bold, Par 72)

64 Lucas Herbert (Aus)

65 Johannes Veerman (USA)

66 Grant Forrest

67 Tommy Fleetwood, Martin Kaymer (Ger), Thorbjoern Olesen (Den), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), Andy Sullivan, Jason Scrivener (Aus), Adria Arnaus (Spa), Thomas Detry (Bel), Richie Ramsay, Andrew Johnston, Sean Crocker (USA), Sebastian Garcia (Spa), Gregory Havret (Fra), Dale Whitnell

68 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Alexander Levy (Fra), Marcus Armitage, Antoine Rozner (Fra), Min-Woo Lee (Aus), Vincent Norrman (Swe), Colm Moriarty, Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn), Kalle Samooja (Fin), Scott Jamieson, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Chris Paisley, Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry), Robert Rock, Julien Guerrier (Fra), Francesco Laporta (Ita), Aaron Cockerill (Can), Steven Brown

69 Wil Besseling (Ned), Aaron Rai, Richard Bland, Pablo Larrazabal (Spa), Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Justin Harding (Rsa), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Richard McEvoy, John Catlin (USA), Joachim B. Hansen (Den), Adrian Otaegui (Spa), Jordan Smith, Zander Lombard (Rsa), Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Justin Walters (Rsa), Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin), Jamie Donaldson, Matthew Jordan, Connor Syme, Maverick Antcliff (Aus)

70 Shane Lowry, Chris Wood, Rasmus Hoejgaard (Den), Thomas Pieters (Bel), Shaun Norris (Rsa), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Michael Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Ignacio Elvira (Spa), Joakim Lagergren (Swe), Ross Fisher, Jeff Winther (Den), James Morrison, Raphael Jacquelin (Fra), Adrien Saddier (Fra), Garrick Porteous, Niklas Lemke (Swe)

71 Sebastian Soederberg (Swe), Wade Ormsby (Aus), George Coetzee (Rsa), Romain Langasque (Fra), Renato Paratore (Ita), Niall Kearney, Takumi Kanaya (Jpn), David Drysdale, Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Gaganjeet Bhullar (Ind), David Howell, Marc Warren, Benjamin Poke (Den), Pedro Figueiredo (Por), Rikard Karlberg (Swe)

72 Rory McIlroy, Jorge Campillo (Spa), Alexander Bjoerk (Swe), Ross McGowan, Paul Dunne, Alvaro Quiros (Spa), Julian Suri (USA), Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), Soeren Kjeldsen (Den), Haydn Porteous (Rsa), Peter Hanson (Swe), Joel Stalter (Fra), Calum Hill, Jack Senior, Oliver Farr, Darius van Driel (Ned), Laurie Canter, Svn-Hwan Kim (USA), Toby Tree

73 Dean Burmester (Rsa), Stephen Gallacher, Paul Waring, Daniel van Tonder (Rsa), David Law, Rowan Lester, Mark Power, Darren Fichardt (Rsa), Oliver Wilson, Adrian Meronk (Pol), Cormac Sharvin, Alejandro Canizares (Spa), Robin Sciot-Siegrist (Fra), Carlos Pigem (Spa), David Coupland

74 Graeme McDowell, Eddie Pepperell, Lucas Bjerregaard (Den), Joost Luiten (Ned), Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Nino Bertasio (Ita), David Horsey, Lorenzo Gagli (Ita), Robin Roussel (Fra)

75 Sami Valimaki (Fin), Scott Hend (Aus), Sam Horsfield, Gavin Moynihan, Gavin Green (Mal), Oliver Fisher, Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Ricardo Santos (Por)

76 Haotong Li (Chn), Jonathan Caldwell, Ryan Fox (Nzl), Padraig Harrington, Ashley Chesters, Lars van Meijel (Ned)

77 Callum Shinkwin, Graeme Storm, Simon Thornton, Jake McLeod (Aus)

78 Wilco Nienaber (Rsa), Brandon Stone (Rsa), Andrea Pavan (Ita), Caolan Rafferty, Neil O’Briain

82 Robin Dawson

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