Irish Open: Rory McIlroy hopes for improvement after 'sloppy finish' on day one
It was wet, it was windy, but nothing was going to stop fans turning out in large numbers yesterday at Royal Portrush for the first Irish Open in Northern Ireland since 1953.
Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, the three major champions whose success helped to bring the event back across the border, were always going to have the biggest galleries lining the fairways. But while none of them was able to break 70, Indian Jeev Milkha Singh and France's Gregory Bourdy were certainly not complaining about the number following them as they set the pace – either side of a 95-minute storm delay – with 65s.
"The atmosphere and the feel to the golf course is fantastic," said the 40-year-old. "When you have so many people cheering and watching you I think you feel great."
England's Mark Foster, part of a group on 66, commented: "It was just amazing out there. I got a six o'clock car to the course and, I kid you not, there were people queueing to get in - even though the rain was coming sideways. I've never seen a buzz in the players' lounge like there is this week. People are raving about the course and the size of the crowds."
It is the first time organisers put the "sold out" signs up for a regular European Tour event, with 27,000 tickets purchased for each day's play.
McDowell was the first of the three local heroes into action, but hitting a pitch into bushes for a double bogey seven on the 581-yard 17th - his eighth - took the wind out of his sails and he had to settle for a one under 71.
Clarke, yet to make his first halfway cut of the year and out for the past month with a groin strain, contented himself with matching that after a hat-trick of bogeys had left him two over after eight.
World number two McIlroy, meanwhile, reached four under, but three-putted the 16th and 18th in what he called "a sloppy finish" and signed for a 70.