European Masters: Rory McIlroy back in the swing
Jose Maria Olazabal could not have been happier as two of his expected Medinah stars raced to the top of the leaderboard in the Omega European Masters on the first day of qualifying for the 2012 Ryder Cup.
On a day Olazabal was asked to remember Seve Ballesteros in setting a commemorative plaque in concrete, Martin Kaymer birdied his closing two holes in a round of 65 before being joined by Rory McIlroy with a six-under-par score on the Crans-sur-Sierre course.
The duo, who were members of last year's Celtic Manor-winning side, are among four players on six-under-par, two strokes behind England's Nick Dougherty.
Dougherty looks set to end a horror run of 20 missed cuts this year after carding an eight-under-par 63 — his best score since shooting a final-round 64 to win the 2009 BMW International.
And, in a strange twist, it was his wife, Sky Sports reporter Di Dougherty, who had the task of interviewing him — the only player not to have earned a single cent among the 369 playing on the European Tour this season.
“It's quite a bounce-back,” said Dougherty. “I do like to be a little bit dramatic when I do everything, as you well know!
“It's been tough coming home and having to deal with constant disappointment and I'm really, really proud of how I played.
“It feels great, obviously. I've not had a lot to be happy about and you've had to take the brunt of it and put up with me.
“It was difficult to find positives because there was nothing going my way, but today was super. My short game's been great all year, but I drove it much better and hit some quality iron shots.
“I felt something click at Gleneagles last week (he missed the cut by one after a second round 69) and I also ‘manned up' — instead of feeling sorry for myself and the world's against me I fought for it.”
McIlroy, watched by a large number of Swiss youngsters wearing ‘Team Rory' T-shirts, showed no ill-effects of his injured right wrist and dropped just one stroke, at his 13th, before three birdies over his closing four holes.
“It's a great way to start the week,” he said. “When I had a chance to win here in 2008, I also got off to a great start and shot a 63, so it's good to get off to another fast start.”
And his efforts delighted Olazabal, the 2012 European Ryder Cup captain.
“It's great for me that Ryder Cup qualifying has finally started, and, while there is a very long way to go, it's good to have some of the big guys up there so quickly,” said Olazabal after his 75.
“At least players like Martin, Rory, Lee (Westwood), Darren (Clarke) and the Molinaris are here and they are making a point with regards to the Ryder Cup.” Clarke and Westwood finished on four-under-par.
Belfast's Michael Hoey was one of the early leaders, but he then dropped three strokes over his inward half in a round of 70. Peter Lawrie also shot one-under, which included back-to-back double bogeys at his 15th and 16th holes.
Also in red figures on one-under is Shane Lowry, while Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin returned to competition after his honeymoon to record a one-over 72.
Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell both teed off at the Deutsche Bank Championship in the United States last night, while in a major boost to this month's Vivendi Seve Trophy, both Westwood and Clarke have now committed to the event in France.