Power & Kearney lead home hopefuls after morning wave in Mount Juliet

John Craven
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Seamus Power at Mount Juliet (Photo By Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Séamus Power and Niall Kearney took advantage of ideal scoring conditions to lead the home charge on the opening day of the Horizon Irish Open.

The pair recorded four-under par rounds of 68 to trail clubhouse leader Ryan Fox by four strokes after the Kiwi signed for eight birdies in a superb bogey-free 64.

The crowds were out in force and Mount Juliet looked a picture as Power made his way to the 10th tee in the marquee group alongside Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton at 8am on Thursday. Yet as Lowry left the course wanting to do everything a little better on Friday after an opening one-under 71, Power was pleased overall having carded six birdies, the pick of which arrived to the delight of the galleries from 36 feet at his last.

“Yeah, it was fantastic,” Power said, his four-under par start leaving him just inside the top-25.

“I mean, for 8 o’clock on the Thursday morning, it was great. I was kind of expecting it, but even still it was pretty cool to see them out there in support. It was a great atmosphere and it was nice to make a couple of putts for them.”

It was Power’s first visit to an Irish Open since he teed up at Lahinch in 2019 and the West Waterford star is under no illusions as to the extra energy it would inject into the tournament should one of the home favourites contend.

“I know the tournament is sold out for the weekend so I’m sure they’d love to have some Irish up there for some extra support,” Power said.

“The people who come here love watching the golf, and they haven’t been able to really come the last few years. So I think everyone’s excited, but obviously having an Irish person out there would add a little bit of extra excitement.”

Not alone in leading a chorus of Irish cheers on the opening day, it was a similar story for Royal Dublin’s Kearney who raced to the turn with five birdies and no dropped shots determined to remain aggressive.

Having also started on the tenth, Kearney predicted it would be the front nine that would prove a more fruitful hunting ground this week but he had to settle for a run of seven pars from the 1st, his tenth, before a first bogey of the day arrived at his penultimate hole.

The 34-year old flew the green with his third shot into the par-5 8th and failed to get up and down but dusted himself off to find his final hole in two before two-putting from 50-feet for his 68 and a solid foundation upon which to build.

“It’s brilliant to kick on and hopefully bring it into tomorrow,” Kearney said. “I played strong on the back nine. Just tried to push on and get up the board and kick on.

“I’ve got to make the most of every week. This is the first run I think of two weeks in a row which is difficult because you’re sort of stop start, stop start.

“[A big week] would be huge, massive points and lots of friends out there following, lots of family. This is where all the Irish guys want to play well.”

Lowry meanwhile traded a bogey on 12 with a birdie on 17 to make the turn in even par and had to stay patient until his luck finally turned on his 15th and 16th holes of the day. A delicate chip from just shy of the green found the bottom of the cup to move the Clara star into red figures before a raking 40-footer at the seventh bolted Lowry to two-under with two holes to play.

Hunting a third as he looked to break 70, there was drama to follow for Lowry; a wild drive left on the par-5 8th, his penultimate hole, resulting in a penalty drop and an adventurous but important bogey ‘6’.

“I was in the tree and had no shot out there to drop, and I didn’t know where to take it, so I sent Bo back to see if could get a line, and he did,” Lowry explained.

“And, well, he got a position to drop it in, I’m not sure if we picked the right line for the next shot because, yeah, I was lucky,” he smiled. “I was fortunate. Not often you’re fortunate to make a bogey, but I was quite fortunate there.”

He walked off the 8th green grinning – sweet relief perhaps – but at one-under par, Lowry accepts that it all needs to go up a level on Friday to ensure he moves through to the weekend to challenge in Kilkenny.

“The full summary of my whole game today was only okay,” said Lowry.  “I’d like to do everything better tomorrow. I think I hit it in play pretty much, I drove it okay, not great, but I hit a couple of poor iron shots, I hit some good iron shots. I hit some good shots, I hit some bad shots.

“So it was only okay. I holed a couple putts. I missed a couple. So it was one of those where it was pretty average day for me.”

Meanwhile, Pádraig Harrington showed no signs of a hangover from his U.S. Senior Open success, the Dubliner posting four birdies in a two-under 70, though he did bogey his final hole.

Harrington sits just inside the top-60 on the same score as Kinsale’s John Murphy who also started nicely with three birdies in a two-under 70 of his own. Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell was alongside Lowry at one-under while Paul Dunne recovered from two early bogeys to post an even par start, the same score as Mount Juliet amateur Mark Power.

Waterville pro David Higgins recorded a six-over par opening 78.

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