Ryan Fox carded eight birdies in a stunning opening round 64 to storm into the first round lead at the Horizon Irish Open, an event at which the Kiwi came within a whisker of winning four years ago.
Thousands of fans descended on the County Kilkenny venue as full-capacity crowds returned to the historic national open for the first time since 2019 and, while home heroes Pádraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and Séamus Power were the star attractions as the event teed off, Fox soon took centre stage.
The 35-year-old had come agonisingly close to winning this event in 2018, missing out in a play-off to Russell Knox who holed a monster putt to win, and he put himself in the driving seat after the opening round at Mount Juliet with a bogey-free eight under round.
That left him a shot clear of Frenchman Frederic Lacroix, Jorge Campillo of Spain, Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti and Marcel Schneider of Germany.
World Number 36 Séamus Power and Niall Kearney were the leading Irishmen after round one, both carding four under rounds while Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry will enter day two on two under and one under respectively.
Ryan Fox: “I’m more surprised, to be honest, than anything else. I’ve been fighting it on the range the last couple days after the weekend, and certainly didn’t look like it early in the round. I made a couple of birdies, but I was scrapping away, and then stop and collect on seven, eight, hit a great wedge shot in there and made a few putts as well.
“So just one of those days that I guess patience is — shows how important patience is in a round of golf, and from first six holes I felt like two-under would have been a great score. And then the last 10 holes, I felt like I could have shot anything, to be honest.
“It’s just one of those silly little golf feelings, what feels right and, you know, I saw a couple shots. So it was stopping and finishing where I wanted the ball to go. And I always feel like in golf you’re probably two swings away from playing really well and two swings away from playing really badly. So I think we’re out in the two swings away from playing really well today.”
Séamus Power: “It was interesting, the putter last week makes you feel better, and a couple of sloppy mistakes coming up to that on the front. But overall very pleased. A lot of good things out there. And I hit enough fairways, hit enough greens, just maybe a couple of putts there.
“I’m pretty pleased all around. A little frustrating on 5 and 8, just kind of bizarre kind of bogeys. But besides that, it was pretty good, pretty sharp. So pretty pleased.”
“The crowds were fantastic. It was good. I mean, for eight o’clock on the Thursday morning, it was great. I mean, I was kind of expecting it, but even still it was pretty cool to see them out there, the support. It was a great atmosphere, and it was nice to make a couple of putts for them.”
Pádraig Harrington: “It’s a pity with the finish. I was hoping to get to four-under, so I think with 17 and two bogeys, maybe I’m a bit tired. Who knows. It’s just a part of the game, isn’t it.
“I knew there would be tough patches this week no matter what, that I would have a struggle. So I’m not going to worry about it, get some sleep tonight. Get up in the morning and hopefully go low tomorrow.
“It really was great. It’s a big crowd well behind me. There was a bit of a buzz, and I played nicely all the way through, so it was okay. It’s important to play nice when you have the home crowd. And, yeah, hopefully I can deliver a little bit more tomorrow, but I think the crowds are helping.”
Shane Lowry: “I wouldn’t say disappointed. It was only okay. The course was fairly scorable there this morning. I got off to a bit a rocky start and never really got it going. So I was just kind of playing catchup with the course all day. I didn’t get under par until late in my round. But then I was thinking I might make one more and go in three-under, but obviously not.
“I obviously need two good scores the next few days to get myself there on Sunday. But I can definitely do it. I know that. So we’ll see.”