Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Foster makes storming start

Graeme McDowell shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right)

England's Mark Foster birdied six of his first 10 holes to burst into an early two-stroke lead as Northern Ireland staged its first Irish Open since 1953 today.

Watched by a sell-out crowd which included First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness - fresh from his handshake with The Queen - Foster reached the turn in a superb 31 and then two-putted the long 10th.

That put the Worksop 36-year-old, with just one victory in over 300 European Tour events, six under par and two ahead of 19-year-old Irish amateur Dermot McElroy, who followed an eagle on the long ninth with back-to-back birdies at the start of the inward half.

Compatriot Michael Hoey and South African Keith Horne started impressively on three under, but 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell fell out of the group on minus two when he ran up a double bogey seven at the long 17th after misjudging the wind with his third shot.

McDowell admits to feeling immense pride at the staging of the event in his home town - he is a member of the adjoining Rathmore club - and Dubliner Padraig Harrington, his playing partner for the first two rounds, has also spoken of how thrilled he is too at the return of the championship north of the border.

It follows a remarkable period for Ireland's golfers. Harrington won three majors, then Rory McIlroy followed McDowell as US Open champion and Darren Clarke, another Ulsterman, lifted The Open last July.

Harrington turned in two under after birdies at the 10th and 17th - the two par fives on the back nine - and both he and McDowell took a brief time out to shake hands with Robinson and McGuinness as they headed from the 18th green to the first tee.

The championship began in heavy rain, but much to the delight of players and fans alike the skies cleared, although dark clouds did not look far away.

McIlroy, Clarke and USPGA champion Keegan Bradley - he has Irish roots - were among the later starters.

Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal was another on two under, while Scot Paul Lawrie, paired with the Spaniard for the third time in under two months, continued his bid to make a return to the European side after 13 years by turning in one under.