Given the luck — or, maybe more accurately, the lack of it — he has had at the Irish Open down the years, New Zealand’s Ryan Fox perhaps feels like the tournament owes him a win.
He’s had success on this island before, having claimed the 2016 Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm, but his track record in the bigger event makes for both good and painful reading.
He finished fourth at Portstewart in 2017 before falling agonisingly short at Ballyliffin in 2018, losing in a play-off to Russell Knox after the Scot holed back-to-back 40-footers on the 18th. Last year, in his own words, Mount Juliet “kicked (his) a**”.
So to open with a bogey-free eight-under 64 at the Kilkenny course this time around is a breath of fresh air for the Aucklander, particularly given he’s still feeling a few side-effects of a bug that ripped through his family over the last week.
“Hopefully I can stay away from play-offs, I seem to have a record of people holing 40-footers on me in play-offs!” laughed the 35-year-old, who holds a one-shot lead over the quartet of Jorge Campillo, Fabrizio Zanotti, Marcel Schneider and Frederic Lacroix.
“My boys got comfortable here, so maybe that’s why I play well in Ireland. I don’t know. But hopefully it continues for the rest of the week.”
The New Zealander is comfortable himself, to the extent that he was cracking jokes post-round about his beloved All Blacks taking on Ireland in the rugby union Test series.
That kind of relaxed nature comes from the kind of form Fox is in, the World No.56 on a sensational run having finished in the top 10 five times in his eight starts since winning the Ras-al Khaimah Classic in February, including two runner-ups.
“I’d say it’s more freedom than confidence. It’s just I feel really happy with where I am on the golf course and off the golf course, and that’s a nice place to be, just go out and try to hit a good shot. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen,” he added.
“There’s definitely some confidence there. I feel really comfortable here, where my game’s at, which probably hasn’t happened for a few years out here now. It’s obviously a recipe for success.
“I’ve got close a few times the last few weeks. It’d certainly be nice to get another one over the line. But it’s pretty hard to win out here, and being in contention every week is pretty taxing as well. So I’m excited to do it, and hopefully I’ve got another chance this week.”
There’s not a lot of star power in the chasing pack, with Schneider the best ranked of the four chasers at seven-under at 190th in the world, although Campillo and Zanotti both have the experience of two DP World Tour wins under their belt.
Séamus Power and Niall Kearney lead the Irish charge after they signed for four-under 68s in their opening rounds, the latter having started with five birdies in his first eight holes, while Pádraig Harrington posted a two-under 70 and former Open champion Shane Lowry an up-and-down 71.
“Overall I’m very pleased, I did a lot of good things out there and I hit enough fairways and greens, just maybe (missed) a couple of putts there,” said Power.
“I’m pretty pleased all round. A little frustrating on five and eight, just kind of bizarre kind of bogeys. But besides that, it was pretty good, pretty sharp.”