McIlroy stumbles; Rahm soars in Round 1 of Irish Open

Rory McIlory-Irish Open Warren Little/Getty Images

McIlroy stumbles; Rahm soars in Round 1 of Irish Open

Euro Tour

McIlroy stumbles; Rahm soars in Round 1 of Irish Open

 

PORTSTEWART, Northern Ireland – Rory McIlroy needs to shift into third gear if he’s to defend the $7 million Dubai Duty Free Irish Open he won 12 months ago at the K Club.

In fact, McIlroy must get his game together just to make the cut after a dismal even-par 72 on the opening day of his own tournament. Rory is tied for 106th, with the top 65 and ties making the weekend.

The World No. 4 teed off in the marquee group of World No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama and 11th ranked John Rahm. The tournament host just wasn’t in their league. Rahm returned a 7-under 65 and is tied for second place alongside Englishmen Oliver Fisher and Matthew Southgate. Matsuyama scored a 67 to lie joint ninth in a group that includes Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell.

Even UCLA grad Daniel Im and France’s Benjamin Hebert gave McIlroy a showing up. They lead by one shot after 8-under, course-record 64s. They are respectively 542nd and 254th on the official world golf ranking.

Funny old game.

McIlroy seemed to struggle with almost every part of his game on day one. He found a greenside bunker on the par-5 13th hole in two shots, but his third shot finished off the green and he had to settle for a par. He hooked his drive at the par-5 14th hole and slapped the face of his driver in frustration as he walked off the tee. Another par followed. It’s not often Rory plays two reachable par 5s in even par. 

“It was just one of those days when I just couldn’t really get anything going,” McIlroy said.

“I felt like I hit the ball pretty well. I gave myself plenty of chances. I hit good putts.

“This golf course, it’s always going to give you chances. Even when I was only even par after nine holes, you have those two chances on the par 5s on the back nine, and you have some wedges in your hand.

“The scoring conditions out there were perfect today and I just didn’t take advantage of them. Hopefully I can take advantage of them tomorrow.”

He must or his only action over the weekend will be handing out the trophy he was hoping to defend this week.

Rahm looked like he’s been playing links golf for the past five years instead of target golf in the United States. He only dropped one shot, at the third, to go with six birdies and an eagle at the seventh. 

“I was a little nervous at first,” Rahm admitted. “I know you have to drive it straight here and, my last few tournaments, I have not driven it straight. I found something with the driver and I was able to execute.

“Besides that, I was really comfortable with everything in my bag.”

English golf is on a high right now after the exploits of Tommy Fleetwood, Chris Wood, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Danny Willett and other young Englishmen. Southgate and Fisher are hardly ever mentioned in that group, but they could be if they continue in the form they showed on day one.

Fisher was a member of the Nick Faldo elite squad with McIlroy when they were juniors. While McIlroy has gone on to fame and glory, Fisher’s only win in 10 and a bit years is the 2011 Czech Open.

“This is my 11th season on Tour and I’ve had my ups and downs,” Fisher said. “In regard to a big win, I know I have it in me. I know I have the ability. It’s not a question of if I’ll ever do it, I think I will do it.”

Winning the third event of the European Tour’s much heralded Rolex Series would meet his expectations.

Southgate finished fourth in last year’s Irish Open to secure his 2017 tour card. That finish “changed my life,” he said.

“I feel a little bit under pressure to perform the same.”

Not as much pressure as McIlroy will feel in the second round.

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