Jon Rahm continued his impressive start to life on the European Tour at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation as the rising Spanish star carded a seven under par 65 to finish the opening day one shot off the lead set by Benjamin Hebert and Daniel Im.
Portstewart Golf Club provided the awe-inspiring backdrop for the first time as a plethora of world golf’s biggest stars – including Rahm (65), Matt Fitzpatrick (66), Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Rose (both 67) – made solid starts to the third Rolex Series event of the season.
American Im, whose best result thus far this season is a tie for 14th at China’s Shenzhen International in April, produced a superlative round of golf as an eight under 64 rocketed him to the top of the leaderboard, where he was joined by Frenchman Hebert late in the day.
Meanwhile, a host of home hopes also moved into position, with Paul Dunne, Graeme McDowell and Gavin Moynihan all signing for rounds of 67 to sit three shots off the pace.
It was a disappointing day for Rory McIlroy, however, as the defending champion and tournament host struggled to build any momentum with two birdies and two bogeys contributing to a level par 72.
“I started really well. I made six birdies on my front nine, and then just kind of kept it going. I made a couple of birdies on the back and then made some good up-and-downs. So I ended up with 64. I’ve been in Europe now for about five years, including on the Challenge Tour and European Tour.
“I experienced links golf a little bit last year, playing St. Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie for the Dunhill Links and it was great. That’s the only links experience I can think of right now – I’ve played Walton Heath for qualifying and stuff so I’m getting there.”
“The last round that I played wasn’t very good so it was a little surprising today. But I practiced a bit last week in France, and I found some keys with my coach.
“It worked quite well today, so I’m very happy. I holed some very important putts as well. I played very well. Only missed one green, no bogeys, so it’s all good. We’ve been a bit lucky I think also with the conditions, with less wind at the end. So it was just perfect today and we’ll see tomorrow.”
“It’s a beautiful golf course. I was telling Rory, I think it’s probably the most beautiful opening tee shot I’ve ever seen and out there with one of the most beautiful front nines I’ve ever seen. The back nine is also amazing. Each hole you can say, this is really special.
“I just love the feeling I get around here, and with the crowd that we had today, it’s an unbeatable feeling. I just like that so much that I think I just kind of forced myself to play good with that attitude.
“I know Seve has won this tournament in the past. I think I’ve seen the images of him making the 40-footer on the last hole a thousand times. I know Sergio won this tournament his first start as a pro. There’s some Spanish history and hopefully I can contribute to that.”
“God knows how I was bogey-free, some of the places that I hit it today. Obviously delighted with that start. I think it was more a good score than good golf. I didn’t drive the ball particularly well. Early on in my round, I was losing shots to the right and kind of figured it out a little bit.
“Then I think the key was hitting some good tee shots on the early par fives and made birdie, eagle to get three under par through five holes, having played most of the holes quite poorly, so that was kind of a nice momentum booster.”
“I was happy with the way I rolled it on the greens generally and hit a lot of nice quality shots. A few tee shots could have been a little bit better position but overall, I’m happy enough with the start. It was low scoring, you had to go and do something.
“I played quite a lot here in my teens. We used to play our school matches here but I’ve never played anything of any massive kind of consequence here. No doubt, I have good memories here, and I have played it probably a hell of a lot more than most guys.
“There’s a certain comfort level. There are a few new tee boxes and things out there, and the golf course is in great shape and really enjoying it and great crowds out there this morning cheering us all on. It was a lot of fun.”
“I don’t think we’re going to get this course much easier. There were so many scoring opportunities out there with loads of wedges into the par fours, four par fives that were all very reachable. I felt I gave myself a few chances away but I just didn’t quite get anything going.
“I just couldn’t get any momentum. Was trying my hardest out there and yeah, just one of those days where I just couldn’t quite get it going. Tee-to-green, it’s okay – it’s right there. It’s where it needs to be. I just need to focus on what I need to do on the greens and I feel like I’m on the right track. It’s just a matter of being patient with it.
“The tournament is incredible. It’s so nice to be a part of. To have guys like Jon Rahm and Hideki here to play with; it was good to see them get off to good starts. As tournament host, I want to see these guys up around the top of the leaderboard and it’s great to see them there.
“Hopefully I can join them there tomorrow with a good round. It’s such a great tournament. It always has been and the atmosphere always has been good. We just needed to get the stature of the tournament to match the stature it always has, and I think we’ve done a good job of that.”
64 D Im (USA) , B Hebert (Fra) ,
65 O Fisher (Eng) , J Rahm (Esp) , M Southgate (Eng) ,
66 M Fitzpatrick (Eng) , D Drysdale (Sco) , J Donaldson (Wal) ,
67 H Matsuyama (Jpn) , D Horsey (Eng) , G Moynihan (Irl) , P Dunne (Irl) , A Wall (Eng) , F Aguilar (Chi) , F Zanotti (Par) , P Peterson (USA) , D Stewart (Sco) , J Rose (Eng) , G McDowell (Nir) , W Ormsby (Aus) , S Gallacher (Sco) , R Fox (Nzl) ,
68 P Waring (Eng) , R Bland (Eng) , A Otaegui (Esp) , S Kjeldsen (Den) , P Larrazábal (Esp) , H Li (Chn) , I Poulter (Eng) , C Shinkwin (Eng) , P Harrington (Irl) , P Hanson (Swe) , G Stal (Fra) , R Karlberg (Swe) , S Dyson (Eng) , S Lowry (Irl) , B Dredge (Wal) , M Hoey (Nir) , A Romero (Arg) , R Ramsay (Sco) , S Lee (Kor) ,
69 P Uihlein (USA) , J Fahrbring (Swe) , M Ilonen (Fin) , R Karlsson (Swe) , L Bjerregaard (Den) , J Smith (Eng) , M Jiménez (Esp) , J Lagergren (Swe) , R Cabrera Bello (Esp) , R Langasque (Fra) , V Dubuisson (Fra) , N Bertasio (Ita) , D Higgins (Irl) , M Warren (Sco) , S Manley (Wal) , R Gouveia (Por) , G Hurley (Irl) , P Lawrie (Sco) , R Jacquelin (Fra) , L Slattery (Eng) , S Walker (Eng) ,
70 D McElroy (Nir) , G Bourdy (Fra) , E De La Riva (Esp) , M Siem (Ger) , T Fleetwood (Eng) , R Rock (Eng) , D Burmester (RSA) , H Otto (RSA) , J Scrivener (Aus) , E Molinari (Ita) , R Paratore (Ita) , S Brazel (Aus) , M Kieffer (Ger) , J Carlsson (Swe) , J Quesne (Fra) , C Hanson (Eng) , T Detry (Bel) , A Cañizares (Esp) , D Brooks (Eng) , H Tanihara (Jpn) , S Jamieson (Sco) , A Chesters (Eng) ,
71 D Frittelli (RSA) , T Olesen (Den) , T Aiken (RSA) , H Porteous (RSA) , S Hend (Aus) , D Lipsky (USA) , B Ritthammer (Ger) , J Van Zyl (RSA) , A Dodt (Aus) , M Wallace (Eng) , D Willett (Eng) , R Wattel (Fra) , C Moriarty (Irl) , T Jaidee (Tha) , M Pavon (Fra) , J Luiten (Ned) , J Morrison (Eng) , M Fraser (Aus) , A Johnston (Eng) , S Chan (Tpe) , M Armitage (Eng) ,
72 R Finch (Eng) , K Broberg (Swe) , A Wu (Chn) , R McIlroy (Nir) , N O’Briain (Irl) , N Elvira (Esp) , G Coetzee (RSA) , N Kimsey (Eng) , A Sullivan (Eng) , M Manassero (Ita) , S Khan (Eng) , A Knappe (Ger) , D Perrier (Fra) , J Stalter (Fra) , J Olazábal (Esp) , M Carlsson (Swe) , N Colsaerts (Bel) ,
73 S Heisele (Ger) , T Immelman (RSA) , G Storm (Eng) , B Stone (RSA) , R Sterne (RSA) , T Pieters (Bel) , M Foster (Eng) , L Jensen (Den) , A Levy (Fra) , J Campillo (Esp) , T Bjørn (Den) , S Thornton (Irl) , N Fasth (Swe) ,
74 R Kilpatrick (Nir) , K Aphibarnrat (Tha) , D Clarke (Nir) , A Björk (Swe) , J Walters (RSA) , D Howell (Eng) , G Havret (Fra) , B Rumford (Aus) ,
75 A Quiros (Esp) , F Fritsch (Ger) , T Hatton (Eng) , S Chawrasia (Ind) , C Paisley (Eng) , D Fichardt (RSA) ,
76 P McGinley (Irl) , J Lima (Por) , J Wang (Kor) , D McGrane (Irl) , P Angles (Esp) , L Westwood (Eng) ,
82 S Gros (Fra) ,