Tokyo 2020: Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry make steady starts

Sepp Straka holds first round lead after a bogey-free 63 in Tokyo

Rory McIlroy lines up a putt on the 18th during the first round of the men’s golf tournament at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Rory McIlroy lines up a putt on the 18th during the first round of the men’s golf tournament at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA

 

Steady if unspectacular, both Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry opened with sub-par rounds as the opening day’s play in the men’s individual tournament at Kasumigaseki Golf Club was disrupted by a lightning storm that caused a delay of almost two and a half hours.

As unheralded Austrian Sepp Straka, ranked 161st in the world and still in search of a breakthrough win on the PGA Tour where he plies his craft, produced a bogey-free 63, eight-under-par, to claim the first round lead, it was more a case of steady as it goes for the two Irishmen.

McIlroy, as he has done in Ryder Cups, opted not to wear a cap in the humid conditions and featured four birdies and two bogeys in a 69 for tied-20th, while Lowry, with two birdies and one bogey, signed for a 70 to finish his day’s work in tied-31st in the 60 man field. Both have work to do if they are to manufacture a way into medal contention.

Others with aspirations have even more work to do, with British Open champion and world number three Collin Morikawa matching McIlroy’s 69 while world number four Justin Thomas failed to find a single birdie in a round of 71 that featured 18 straight pars.

McIlroy didn’t appear at the 2016 Olympics, citing concerns about the Zika virus at the time and after Thursday’s opening round in Tokyo he spoke about how much he has enjoyed the experience so far.

“Yeah, it feels quite good. When golf first got into the Olympics I had an idea of what it meant for the game but you get a different feeling and perspective once you’re here at the Olympics. It’s cool, our sport is so new that you sort of have to put yourself in a position 20 or 20 years down the line and think about what it means then and I think it is going to be massive. I think in 30 years’ time it will be on a par with the four Majors that we play so pretty cool to play my first round in it and I certainly hope it won’t be my last one because I have got a taste for it now.

McIlroy and Lowry played together numerous times for Ireland during their amateur days and this week has rekindled memories for both.

“It does. The stories we have been telling each other and reminiscing. Jeez, we played all over the world together as amateurs: South Africa, Australia, all over Europe. So it has been great to spend that time with Shane and Neil again. It sort of feels like we have gone back to the amateur days.”

Straka’s superb round - on the back of just one practice round - came literally out of the blue, as the 28-year-old had missed his last three cuts on the PGA Tour and, indeed, had missed six of his last seven.

Tokyo 2020

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Shane Lowry wipes himself down with the high temperatures in Tokyo. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Shane Lowry wipes himself down with the high temperatures in Tokyo. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

After his latest missed cut at the 3M Open, Straka changed his putting routine - “I shortened it a little bit, simplified it. I took practice swings out and (got) more feel oriented, a little more athletic. I was getting a little technical when putting so I just get out there, see it and hit it,” he explained - and it had immediate results on the Olympic stage.

Straka - who has an Austrian father and an American mother - was born in Vienna and grew up in Austria until the family moved to the United States when he was 14. “I used to say that I was 50 per cent Austrian, 50 per cent American; a friend of mine corrected me and said I’m 100 per cent Austrian and 100 per cent American. I feel fully connected to Austria, fully connected.”

Straka’s flawless golf was completed before the weather front moved into the area, and his 63 - an Olympic low round since golf returned to the Games in Rio in 2016 - gave him a one stroke lead over Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond with Belgium’s Thomas Pieters in a share of third with Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz.

Collated Scores in the Men’s Individual Stroke Play Round 1 (Par 71)

63 Sepp Straka (Aut)

64 Jazz Janewattananond (Tha)

65 Thomas Pieters (Bel), Carlos Ortiz (Mex)

66 Joachim B. Hansen (Den), Jhonattan Vegas (Ven), Juvic Pagunsan (Phi)

67 Sebastian Munoz (Col), Paul Casey (Gbr), Anirban Lahiri (Ind), Alex Noren (Swe)

68 Adri Arnaus (Spa), Henrik Norlander (Swe), Antoine Rozner (Fra), Xander Schauffele (USA), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Si Woo Kim (Kor), Viktor Hovland (Nor), Patrick Reed (USA)

69 Matthias Schwab (Aut), Abraham Ancer (Mex), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Corey Conners (Can), Yechun Yuan (Chn), Rory Sabbatini (Svk), Mito Pereira (Chi), Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Romain Langasque (Fra), Collin Morikawa (USA), Rory McIlroy (Irl)

70 Sami Valimaki (Fin), Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Marc Leishman (Aus), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Hurly Long (Ger), Thomas Detry (Bel), Sungjae Im (Kor), Tommy Fleetwood (Gbr), Shane Lowry (Irl), Jorge Campillo (Spa)

71 Rikuya Hoshino (Jpn),Guido Migliozzi (Ita), Justin Thomas (USA), Gunn Charoenkul (Tha), Renato Paratore (Ita), Cameron Smith (Aus), Garrick Higgo (Rsa)

72 Kristian Krogh Johannessen (Nor), Adrian Meronk (Pol), Ashun Wu (Chn), Ondrej Lieser (Cze)

73 Rasmus Hoejgaard (Den), Rafael Campos (Pur), Max Kieffer (Ger), Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry), Scott Vincent (Zim)

74 C.T. Pan (Tpe),Gavin Green (Mal)

75 Kalle Samooja (Fin)

76 Udayan S. Mane (Ind)

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