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Northern Ireland's Rory feeling upbeat but is left with much to do

 

Playing catch-up: Rory McIlroy lines up a shot, but is seven adrift of first-round leader Justin Walters
Playing catch-up: Rory McIlroy lines up a shot, but is seven adrift of first-round leader Justin Walters

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy had to settle for an opening two-under-par 70 at Carnoustie on the first day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, but was able to find the lighter side of things in the process.

The World No.2 hit his tee shot out of bounds on the sixth, his 15th hole of the day, which turned a good round into nothing more than average and left him seven shots adrift of leader Justin Walters.

The South African carded a nine-under-par 63 on the Old Course at St Andrews to lead by one from England's Jordan Smith, Spain's Adrian Otaegui, New Zealand's Ryan Fox and France's Victor Perez.

It was not all bad news for McIlroy, however, as he is playing with his father Gerry in the team event and joked: "As all dads do sometimes he can start to get on my nerves a bit, but for the most part it's been brilliant.

"He loves it and he played well. He bettered me by five shots and his goal for the week was if he could better me by four a day, 16 for the week, I think we have a decent chance."

Despite Walters holding a slender lead, the English trio of Matt Southgate, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton could hold the upper hand.

Southgate is two shots back after a bogey-free 65 at Carnoustie, traditionally the toughest of the three courses used for the pro-am event, with Fleetwood and Hatton both shooting 66 at last year's Open venue.

Southgate, who hails from Southend but has been a member at Carnoustie since he was 16, said: "I'm chuffed to bits. It's a dream come true. I've waited a long time to go down that last hole with that feeling. A really, really special day for me.

"The last few years I've struggled at this event when it gets so cold and I've really struggled because I'm such a feel player.

"If I lose the feeling in my hands it's a bit of a nightmare in the knock-down shots but we were blessed with the weather."

Fleetwood set the course record of 63 at Carnoustie in this event in 2017 and has twice been runner-up, including last year.

"I always score really well on this one," said Fleetwood, who has not missed a halfway cut since last July's French Open. "It is always good to get off to a good start.

"If the wind blows I always find Kingsbarns pretty tricky with the way it's so exposed. Hopefully we get some good conditions there tomorrow and shoot another good one and then you've got two rounds around St Andrews.

"I'd love to have this event on my CV. There's a long way to go but I've done alright in the past."

Lee Westwood was a shot ahead of McIlroy on three under thanks largely to a hole-in-one on the eighth at Carnoustie, his 17th hole of the day.

"I played pretty well and hit a lot of good iron shots and had not made any putts," Westwood said. "It landed perfectly on the green and caught the right edge. I eliminated the putting."

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