Super Mac is right at home among the best
Rory McIlroy could not have hoped for a better introduction to professional life on the European Tour than his opening 69 at the DeVere Belfry in the British Masters.
The 18-year-old Ulsterman, who turned pro on Tuesday, produced a flawless three under to lie in joint 11th place as he prepared to go into today's second round.
He rode his luck a little along the way but his performance was reminiscent of his opening effort at this year's Open Championship at Carnoustie when as an amateur he was the only man in the field not to drop a shot on the first day.
McIlroy's first aim this week is to make the cut and therefore secure the first pay packet of his career.
But, welcome as that would be, money at this level is a measure of success and the Holywood player has an immediate target in mind.
He came through the first stage of the Tour's Q-School last week but can bypass the second stage in Spain in November if he can win over £150,000 before the end of the season. He has four more events to play after this week.
That would be quite a performance and a great boost to his fledgling career because he may have qualified with ease at the Oxfordshire last week, but anything can happen over the six rounds of the second stage which is about as pressurised as the game gets with so much at stake.
McIlroy's first few holes yesterday did not go entirely to plan.
After a chip to three feet saved him a par on the 10th, his first, he pushed his drive down the 11th into a pot bunker and was so close to the face he had to play out backwards.
When the 18-year-old then went over the green with his third a double bogey was a possibility, but to his huge relief McIlroy chipped in for par and then birdied the 12th and 17th before picking up another shot coming home at the 445-yard sixth.
He out-scored playing partner Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, by eight shots.
McIlroy, who followed his chip-in for par on the 11th with another for his first birdie on the next, said: "I gave myself quite a few chances. It could have been better, but I am not complaining - I would have taken 69.
"I was not nearly as nervous as at The Open and if I can keep playing like that I'll be happy."
It was another disappointing day for Darren Clarke but at least he recovered with two birdies in his closing three holes to finish on two over and give himself a chance of making the cut. He started today's second round nine behind Sweden's Martin Erlandsson who had an incredible 69 to open up a two shot lead.
Graeme McDowell had a level par 72 and all three Ulsterman are among the afternoon starters today.
IRELAND face Wales in the Home Internationals in a match to avoid the wooden spoon at Baltray today.
The Irish lost to England yesterday 8? points to 6?, with veteran Gary Wolstenholme proving the difference with his two vital wins.