Sergio Garcia, who signed off at Druids Glen with a 64 to win the Murphy’s Irish Open last year, opened his defence of the title at Ballybunion with an identical score to share the first round lead with Sweden’s Patrik Sjöland.
Garcia and Sjöland established the new course record for the wonderfully scenic and demanding County Kerry venue. On a cloudless and near windless day – a rarity on the exposed Irish coastline – the two players exceeded their own expectations to take a shot advantage over a clutch of players on 65, including 47 year old home player Des Smyth.
Garcia, who became the fourth youngest winner on the European Tour when he claimed his maiden victory on the European Tour, made the final three of his eight birdies on the last three holes to shoot his lowest score on a links course.
Sjöland, meanwhile, who had taken a large chunk of time off to be at home with his new baby son, Hugo, showed signs of the form which propelled him to his one and only Tour title in the Italian Open in 1998.
Garcia had been asked the previous day where, given the choice, he would have elected to defend his title. He immediately reponded with Druids Glen, the venue where he succeeded in 1999. His opening round at Ballybunion may persuade him to revise that position.
“Well, if I shoot three more 64s I would love to defend every single year here! Seriously, you have to realise the tournament is not over. If the wind blows and you don’t have a good day you could shoot three over par.
“Today I played very well. We were pretty lucky because the day was good. When I saw the day I thought there would be good scores but I didn’t that good. I thought maybe four or five under would take me near the top of the leaderboard.”
Meanwhile Sjöland gave further credence to the theory of “beware the wounded golfer” as he rose from two to three hours fitful sleep to shoot his seven under par round.
He explained: “I’ve caught the flu and a little bit of fever and didn’t sleep well. As a result I didn’t expect anything out there. This makes me feel a lot better! I won’t go and see a doctor. I just wore plenty of clothes to sweat it out.”
Smyth, who won the last of his seven European Tour titles in 1993, holed a nine iron from 135 yards for an eagle two at the 13th on his way to a round of 65 and a share of second place along with Lucas Parsons of Australia, Johan Skold of Sweden and England’s Ian Garbutt.
Ireland’s Paul McGinley put himself nicely in position with a four under par 67, alongside fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington and Philip Walton, while Sweden’s Fredrik Lingren was the toast of the fans at Ballybunion when he holed in one at the 154 yard third hole with a nine iron.
Sponsors Murphy’s decided to acknowledge that feat by rewarding the thirsty supporters with a free pint of their foaming product on production of a valid entry ticket!First round video highlightsSecond round tee-times