Dublin – New Zealander Ryan Fox leads the Irish Open after the first round on five-under par on Thursday, a shot ahead of a chasing pack including veteran home hope Padraig Harrington.
Fox, 31, finished tied for fourth in last year’s Irish Open to earn himself a spot at The Open and will hope for at least a repeat this time round after coming in with a 67.
The £5.3million event is being played for the first time at Ballyliffin golf course in Donegal, in North West Ireland.
There are three spots at The Open – which is being hosted at Scottish links course Carnoustie – available to those not already qualified and who finish in the top 10.
However, whilst Northern Irish superstar Rory McIlroy came in with a two under par round it was 46-year-old Harrington, who displayed form that has eluded him all season.
The three-time major champion showed his adroitness for links courses – two of his majors have come at The Open – with a wonderful round hardly befitting a player who was quoted s a 66/1 chance for the tournament earlier in the week.
Harrington, a 15 times winner on the EPGA Tour but who this season has never looked likely to add to that and has missed the cut in seven of the 12 tournaments he has played, said his experience of links golf played a large part in his performance.
“I don’t fully know this golf course so I’m really relying on my links experience rather than my local knowledge,” said Harrington, who won this tournament in 2007.
“But it can catch you out, too, don’t worry, it does. It doesn’t always go as well as it went today but it certainly plays more into my hands on a links course.”
Harrington, who has not won a tournament since 2016, is tied for second with six other players including fellow veteran Lee Westwood and 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett, another major winner who is experiencing a fallow period.
McIlroy, who in a fortnight will hope to end a four year major drought at The Open, recorded a two under par 70.
Defending champion Jon Rahm’s fiery temperament threatened to come to the fore during a round that promised much but ended with the 23-year-old Spaniard carding a 74, back to back bogies at the turn provoking the burly world number five into smashing a club into the ground.
Leading first round scores in the Irish Open at Ballyliffin golf course in County Donegal, northwest Ireland, on Thursday (GBR&IRL unless stated, par-72):
67 – Ryan Fox (NZL)
68 – Ashley Chesters, Padraig Harrington, Matthieu Pavon (FRA), Robert Rock, Adrien Saddier (FRA), Lee Westwood, Danny Willett
69 – Alexander Bjork (SWE), Choi Jin-ho (KOR), Nacho Elvira (ESP), Dylan Frittell (RSA), Sam Horsfield, Scott Jameson, Joakim Lagergren (SWE), Yusaku Miyazato (JPN), Adrian Otaegui (ESP)
70 – Jorge Campillo (ESP), Ryan Evans, Mikko Ilonen (FIN), Soren Kjeldsen (DEN), Zander Lombard (RSA), Rory McIlroy, Wade Ormsby (AUS), Richie Ramsay, Andres Romero (ARG), Peter Uihlein (USA), Marc Warren, Chris Wood