Whether he is firing on all cylinders or battling his swing, Rory McIlroy will be cheered with every step he takes at the Horizon Irish Open this week and he was delighted to salvage a three-under 68 late on in his round.
McIlroy birdied the 8th and 9th holes to chisel out a respectable score despite not having anywhere near his ‘A’ game, hitting just six fairways in the process. He trails Jordan Smith, Thomas Bjorn and Ross Fisher by three shots.
Starting on the back nine, a fan had to find McIlroy’s tee shot buried in the right rough on the tenth. After a bogey six there he responded with birdies on 11 and 18. McIlroy hit just six fairways in his opening round including finding trees on the first, second, fourth and fifth and the water on seven which led to his second bogey of the day. He kept himself in touch with the early leaders with some clutch up and downs and late birdies to finish were an added bonus.
“My putting was actually pretty good and made some good up and downs when I needed to,” said the 2016 Irish Open and defending course champion. “I think that the two birdies on the last two holes sort of glosses over what was a pretty average day.
“The one thing I feel like I’ve done really well over these past couple of years is manage my game and even though I don’t play particularly well today, I can still sort of go out there and shoot something on the sixties and not fall too far back.”
Teeing off just behind Shane Lowry at 8am this morning, the crowds steadily increased throughout the morning and by the time the late morning/early afternoon sun shone each green became an amphitheatre of colour and almost like a major championship, dragging McIlroy on.
“They live and die with every shot and every missed putt and very putt and it’s great. It’s great to have the support. It’s great to play in front of an atmosphere like that, it’s fantastic.
“They’re such a knowledgeable crowd. It’s a very enthusiastic crowd. I thought it was great with Shane playing in front of us as well and obviously playing very well it was just one of those days where it seemed like the crowd sort of built and built.”
Although he said midweek that he can’t personally guarantee an annual appearance in the Irish Open it’s clear the event holds a special place in his heart despite his apparent non committal nature towards the big week.
“It’s great and, and we’ve all grown up watching the Irish Open. I remember, I always tell this story coming back from the young masters in Germany and flying into Dublin Airport in 2003 and looking down and seeing the port coming into land and seeing that the Irish Open was being played in Portmarnock as a young teenager and having dreams and aspirations of making it one day, you know, to think that, you know, we’re here now.
“Playing in Irish Opens I’ve had quite the history with this tournament from hosting it to not being able to get the best out of myself feeling like I tried too hard at times and sort of just trying to learn my way to getting to a point where I feel comfortable just going out trying to play my game and trying to get the best out of myself in front of this crowd. That’s something that I struggled with at the start of my career. But more and more I feel a lot better. “