Italian Francesco Molinari has broken the course record on a day of spectacular scoring in The Irish Open at County Louth – but Padraig Harrington failed once again to ignite his season. While the Open and US PGA champion, without a top-10 finish since January, managed only a one-over-par 73 after losing a ball on the final hole, Molinari grabbed an eagle and eight birdies in a nine-under-par 63. Brilliant though that was – it matched the lowest round of the 26-year-old&aposs European Tour career – it was good enough for only a one-stroke lead. Only 40 minutes earlier Swede Johan Edfors had equalled the old record for Baltray after collecting no fewer than 10 birdies. “I enjoy links golf and I enjoyed it a lot today,” smiled Molinari, whose older brother Edoardo was US Amateur champion in 2005. It helps, of course, when you make a 20-footer for birdie on the 1st and then a 30-footer for eagle at the 3rd, but nobody could accuse the Turin golfer of not capitalising on those early bonuses. “I played a lot of links golf as an amateur and it&aposs just a matter of getting used to it again,” he added. Not that the course played hard and fast. Rain softened it up and everybody was able to attack the flags more as a result – some more successfully than others inevitably. Harrington&aposs closing bogey six was not his only one of the day. He also had one on the 531-yard 6th. But the Dubliner, commuting from home by helicopter, did his best to look on the bright side. “I felt good about a lot of things strangely enough,” he commented. “I will focus on that and in three months I could be on top of the world.” “I was always hanging on in there, but that&aposs how the game is. Some days it just does not go for you and some days everything goes for you. I&aposve just got to stay patient.” Graeme McDowell fared even worse than Harrington, crashing to a five-over 77, but fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke both bounced back from two over at one stage to finish on three-under and one-under, respectively. John Daly, second in Italy on Sunday, kept another colourful pair of trousers under waterproofs all day but his impressive comeback continued with a 68, the same as Lee Westwood. After two successive missed cuts, Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, paired with McIlroy the day after the 20-year-old controversially described the match against the Americans as &aposan exhibition&apos, returned a 70. However, in addition to Molinari and Edfors, no fewer than seven players shot 66, including Scot Paul Lawrie and England&aposs Oliver Wilson, doubtful earlier in the week because of a neck injury and a chest inflammation known as costro-chondritis. Wilson has not played since the Masters, pulling out just before the start of last week&aposs Players Championship, but said: “I&aposm on strong anti-inflammatories and I&aposm really pleased with that round.” He felt it was important to get off to a good start and he certainly did that. After birdies on the first two he matched Molinari&aposs eagle at the next. Another on six-under was Liverpool&aposs Nick Dougherty, who fell out of Ryder Cup reckoning after his mother died suddenly last April and only now looks to be returning to something like the form he was showing just before. He has not had a top-10 finish since last August and only recently spoke of the European Tour not being a very friendly place as he grieved. “People come up to you and say &aposI&aposm sorry&apos, but then they want to beat you – I didn&apost like that,” he said. Today he clarified that by stating it was a natural reaction from other players and not meant as criticism. “Everyone was superb with me. I could not ask any more,” he added. McIlroy stuck by his comments after his round. Asked if he regretted saying the Ryder Cup was not that important to him, he replied: “No I don&apost.” “Don&apost get me wrong. It&aposs probably the best spectacle for golf and I would love to play but sometimes it has been taken too seriously and I would rather win a major.” Meanwhile, Marcus Fraser was the leading Australian after the opening round – six shots behind runaway leader Molinari. Fraser carded a three-under 69 to join a large group of players in a share of 30th place. Compatriot Richard Green and Kiwi Mark Brown both fired one-under 71s. Michael Campbell, Peter O&aposMalley and Scott Strange all struggled to four-over 76s.
Author: PA Sport and Sportal