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Jeev is Singh-ing in the rain

Published 28/06/2012

Thousands of golf fans turned out to watch the likes of Rory McIlroy in action
Thousands of golf fans turned out to watch the likes of Rory McIlroy in action

It was wet, it was windy, but nothing was going to stop fans turning out in huge numbers 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 following them.

But Indian Jeev Milkha Singh was certainly not complaining about the number following him as he set the pace - just before a 95-minute storm delay - with a seven-under-par 65.

"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 queuing 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 ever for a regular European Tour event that organisers put the "Sold Out" signs up, with 27,000 tickets purchased for each day's play.

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy Martin McGuinness, fresh from his historic handshake with the Queen a day earlier, were also in attendance to witness scenes that might one year soon be repeated at an Open Championship.

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.

McIlroy, who has missed four of his last five halfway cuts, was two under after eight when play was suspended. Watched by girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki after her first round exit from Wimbledon, he then went to four under with further birdies on the 10th and 14th.

Clarke, yet to make a cut all year and with only one more tournament before the defence of his Open title, picked up shots at the 10th and 12th to get back to level par but turned two over.

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