McIlroy the star performer but four Irish at the weekend remains a possibility

Mark McGowan

Tom McKibbin putts on the sixth hole at Pinehurst (Logan Whitton/USGA)

Mark McGowan

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Rory McIlroy’s blistering five-under round in the afternoon wave at Pinehurst is undoubtedly the leading story from an Irish perspective, but there is a good chance that he’ll have three others for company on U.S. Open weekend.

Tom McKibbin and Seamus Power were among the early starters – in fact McKibbin, playing in his maiden major championship, was first out off the tenth tee – and both found themselves temporarily tied at the top of the leaderboard with a certain Tiger Woods as the 21-year-old Holywood man rolled in a birdie putt on the 13th to open his major championship birdie account, just after Waterford man Power had done likewise on 11.

A bogey on 14 and a double on 18 saw Power slip to +2 at the turn, but after dropping another shot on two, he reeled off three birdies in a row on three, four and five to claw his way back to level par before dropping a final shot on the ninth.

At +1, he’s tied for 34th and anything in the early 70s – the course plays to a par of 70 this week – will likely see him safely through.

But that is easier said than done as both he and McKibbin will be among the later starters on day two.

McKibbin’s task is a little tougher as his birdie on 13 was his only one of the day and a double bogey on the par-3 15th where he fell victim to the rapid and firm greens took him to the wrong side of par. Three more bogeys would follow, but at +4, he’s currently one shot outside the cut mark and, with the course expected to be as tough if not tougher on day two, a round of level-par is near certain to earn him a first weekend tee time at his first major championship.

Shane Lowry sits alongside McKibbin at +4. Highly fancied due to his sublime short game skills and tee-to-green prowess, he was uncharacteristically sloppy on approach and around the green, and five bogeys over his first 12 holes was a disappointing return.

His first birdie of the day arrived on 14, but a short par miss on 17 gave that shot back, but there was time for a second birdie as he rolled in a 30-footer at the last.

He’ll be among the early starters on day two so should have the benefit of a more user-friendly golf course and he’ll be confident of making his eighth U.S. Open cut in 12 starts.


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