Pádraig Harrington shoots two-under-par 69 at Fota Island

Rory McIlroy 10 off the pace after disappointing 74

Shane Lowry hits his third shot to the ninth on his way to a level-par 71 in yesterday’s first round of the Irish Open at Fota Island. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

The deep, greenside bunker by the par-three seventh green is big enough to swallow a human; or so it would seem. Certainly, it provided some light relief in the midst of some rather serious business in yesterday's first round of the Irish Open when Pádraig Harrington's caddie, Ronan Flood, was left with the job of raking the trap after all three players in the group took it in turns to propel their tee shots there.

Flood was still quietly and diligently shifting sand with the rake when his paymaster Harrington lined up his par-saving putt, only to be disturbed by the click of cameras.

As is the custom in such matters, Harrington backed off and asked his caddie to warn the light-fingered amateur photographers off. Except, the cameras kept on clicking merrily away.

“They can’t hear you down there,” Harrington eventually called out, still eyeing up the putt, after Flood’s initial warning was blocked out by the cavernous surrounds. With that, in a well-timed jump, Flood’s head appeared above the bunker with the warning: “No cameras! Please.” Cue a burst of laughter from the galleries. Oh, and after matters quietened down, Harrington sank the putt.


Large crowd

The marquee three-ball of the morning wave of players attracted a large crowd, with most eyes on home-grown Major champions Harrington and Rory McIlroy, with Scottish golfer

Stephen Gallacher

– a prospective Ryder Cupper for the match in Gleneagles – making up the numbers.

As it transpired, Harrington – the only one of the trio not to have flown in from the US Open at Pinehurst – signed for the lowest score, a two-under-par 69. McIlroy opened with a 74, Gallacher a 73.

If he is to stay around for the weekend, McIlroy will need to fire at some flags and to roll in some putts.

Was jet lag a factor?

What about the missing clubs?

McIlroy shook his head.

“I don’t like to make excuses. I mean, I’m jet-lagged wherever I go because I’m travelling so much, so it’s not like that’s an excuse for me. I would have liked to have hit some balls (Monday and Tuesday) and done some practice those couple of days to prepare . . . that’s just the way it goes. I just need to play better the next few years and get my own plane so that doesn’t happen,” said McIlroy, laughing.

This wasn’t what McIlroy wanted or expected. In Wednesday’s pro-am, he had - apparently – shot a score equivalent to a 63 on his own card. When it mattered in yesterday’s first round, the game wasn’t so sharp and some ill-judged approach shots led to six bogeys to go with his three birdies.

‘Bad round’

McIlroy was inclined to take the glass-half-full philosophy. “This isn’t as bad as some of the rounds I’ve thrown in (in past Irish Opens), where it’s 77 or 78. it’s three-over par but I can get those shots back . . . hopefully this is the one bad round out of the way and I’ve got three good ones in me.”

Having grinded his way around Pinehurst No.2 in last week’s US Open, McIlroy admitted it can be difficult to readjust to the different set-ups. “I think sometimes where you play a week where you’re not making many birdies, it’s hard to get back into the mindset where you are going to have to make a lot of birdies and you’re going to have to shoot low scores . . . but three over here is a lot worse than three over at Pinehurst.”

It’s a case of rolling up and sleeves and firing aggressively at flags for McIlroy, if he is to make the cut.

For Harrington, a solid opening round has set him up nicely to kick on. Indeed, the Dub was like an adopted son in the county where his later father Paddy played football, including two All-Ireland finals, for Cork.

“I get tremendous support down here in Cork. My heritage comes from Cork, I spent my summer holidays in Cork. There is a great buzz out here and it feels like home support, no doubt about it,” said Harrington.

For momentum

Every golfer looks for momentum, and Harrington felt he could feed off the crowd’s support. “Momentum, you always need momentum . . . it is so much a part of this game. I’ll take it from the crowd, holing a putt, anything will do. But you definitely need the breaks in this game.”

In a round that perhaps promised more than it ultimately delivered, Harrington’s 69 included three birdies and a sole bogey, on the 18th where his approach shot hit the bank and rolled into the water surrounding the green. On that occasion, he didn’t get the break.

He added: “I’m happy with what I am seeing in my game, a bit of momentum wouldn’t do any harm. I see that with a lot of players.

“It’s amazing what momentum does to a guy’s game, holing the odd 12-footer for par when you haven’t played the hole well can make an extraordinary difference to the next tee shot.”

This is a big week for Harrington, as always. It kickstarts a run in to next month's British Open at Hoylake where he returns to the Major circuit having missed out on the Masters and the US Open. For now, though, all his focus is on Fota Island. Three more days. Momentum.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times