Team Ireland – Shane Lowry & Rory McIlroy – got their Olympic medal challenges underway at the Kasumigaseki County Club in Tokyo today with both going under par in their first round.
The weather was hot but the thunderstorms that were predicted rolled through the area around 2pm local time, pausing play for a number of hours as all players headed back to the clubhouse to wait it out.
When play was suspended McIlroy was playing his 14th hole and was tied for 30th on 1-under par after an opening pair of birdies followed by a bogey on the par 4 6th. The 4-time major champion then birdied the 11th but dropped another shot on 12 due to short-siding his approach shot and failing to get up and down.
When play resumed McIlroy birdied the 15th before closing with all pars and finished on 2-under par in T20 position.
Meanwhile Shane Lowry’s tidy wedge play resulted in a birdie on the short par 4 2nd hole, however a dropped shot on the 12th saw him fall back to level par through 13 holes when he was forced to stop and wait. He returned strongly however and birdied the 16th and he sits in T31 on 1-under par.
Austrian Sepp Straka currently sits in gold medal place after firing an 8-under par 63 early in the day with Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond in second one stroke adrift before a tie for third with Belgium’s Thomas Pieters and Carlos Ortiz from Mexico both on 6-under par.
“I felt like my game was in a pretty good spot,” said Straka, who has the added support this week of twin brother Sam serving as his caddie.
“Those first few weeks before Travelers when I missed the cut my irons were bad, but my short game was really good. So I worked on my irons a lot and then my short game got bad. So that’s when I missed the last couple cuts. But yeah, I just changed my putting routine up a little bit and it worked really well and my irons have been pretty good the last few weeks, so I felt pretty good about my game.”
Janewattananond, meanwhile, checked his initial nerves to finish the day with an unblemished card that included seven birdies. “I feel very good to be representing Thailand,” he said. “Playing golf is a different mindset when you’re not playing for yourself, but you’re playing for your country and a medal. I’ve played every major. I got very nervous at the Masters, but this was more nervous than that.”
Pieters, on the other hand, didn’t know what to expect as he entered the day, physically drained from the fever and headache that still had a lingering effect when he woke up Thursday. “I felt horrible this morning even when I woke up, but maybe it’s just because I wasn’t thinking about bad shots or places not to hit it,” he said. “My caddie (Adam Marrow) told me hit it there and I did it … I kept it simple.”
Pieters was only able to practice on the front nine, which he played Thursday in one under par. Then he made the turn and relying on his caddie, holed out for an eagle-2 on No. 11 and added birdies on 13, 17 and 18. “Adam did a great job,” Pieters said. “I didn’t play my way out of the tournament the first day, so that’s good.”
Pieters has left himself in a position to contend again for a medal and he is the highest returning finisher from Rio, where he finished fourth despite a third-round 77 that sidetracked his otherwise stellar play with rounds of 67, 66 and 65.