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Opening 66 for Foster

England's Mark Foster was the early clubhouse leader as the Irish Open finally returned to Northern Ireland after a gap of 59 years today.

Watched by a sell-out crowd - a first for the European Tour in a regular event - that included First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy Martin McGuinness, Foster posted a six-under-par 66 at Royal Portrush.

It put the Worksop golfer, winner of only one title in more than 300 starts, a stroke ahead of a group which included Padraig Harrington and defending champion Simon Dyson.

Out on the world famous links, however, Indian Jeev Milkha Singh went to the turn in a six-under 30 and with another birdie at the long 10th led the tournament by one.

Graeme McDowell, first of the three Northern Irish stars into action in a week which means so much to them all, had to be content with a one-under 71.

Fellow major winners Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke were among the later starters facing windier conditions, but not the heavy rain that greeted the first half of the field.

"When we came to the course the rain was sideways and yet people were queuing to get in," said Foster.

"It's amazing here and I've never heard a buzz about the course that there is in the players' lounge this week.

"It was throwing it down when we got up, but that was no surprise and you've just got to be professional about it.

"At least it was not that windy. But that will come - the course will show its teeth no problem."


From Belfast Telegraph