The Australian duo of Peter Lonard and Nick O’Hern share the first round lead in the Nissan Irish Open after opening rounds of eight under par 64 at County Louth Golf Club, establishing a new record at Baltray.
Lonard and O’Hern lead by two from another Australian Brett Rumford, Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher and England’s Simon Wakefield with six players a further stroke back including former Masters and Open Champion Sandy Lyle and the leading Irish challenger Peter Lawrie.
It was the first time Lonard had seen the stunning links at Baltray, his arrival delayed until Wednesday evening after a stop-off in London for a touch up on some laser surgery he had to his eyes six years ago. Although having not set eyes on the course before, Lonard enjoyed a breathtaking day on the greens to convert seven birdies and an eagle, his only dropped shot coming at the tenth, his first hole.
Lonard now plays most of his golf in America, his best finish on the US PGA Tour this season being fifth in the Bellsouth Classic, but found Baltray very much to his liking.
“I suppose when it is your day, it is your day,” said Lonard, who is chasing his first European Tour title after seven other tournament victories worldwide. “The course is fantastic. I didn’t know what to expect. I got here last night, so first look around I thought it was the greatest course I have ever played. It’s a good links course.”
When Lonard received treatment on Tuesday it was 50-50 whether he would be able to play but with no complications felt confident enough to play and reaped the rewards.
The early starters took advantage of the relatively benign conditions to post some exceptional scores for the first round. Moments after Lonard established a new course record, the in-form O’Hern joined him at the top of the leaderboard.
The left hander has recorded four top ten finishes in his last five outings, including a run of fourth, third, second from The Celtic Manor Wales Open, and bounced back from the disappointment of narrowly missing out on a place in last week’s Open Golf Championship is spectacular fashion.
Like Lonard he picked up seven birdies and an eagle with just one dropped shot on the 12th, his third, relishing in the challenges posed by one of the world’s great links courses.
“This is the first time I have been here,” said O’Hern. “Came up on Tuesday, walked the course Tuesday night and played yesterday. The course is fantastic. I love links golf where you have to think your way round and shape your shots. Lot of fades, draws, the while bag of tricks, hold it up in the wind and use the wind on others. I was pretty annoyed I didn’t get in last week at Royal Troon, I think that place would have suited me down to the ground. But I love this course and the firmness of it. I’m not a long hitter, probably 180th of 190 players but that doesn’t matter round here. You have to plot your way round the course.”
Gallacher, Rumford and Wakefield all posted rounds of 66 to lie just two shots off the pace while Lyle showed signs of a return to form with a fine opening 67.
Lyle is enjoying a return to form having quickened his backswing over the last four or five weeks in order to get more fluidity in his swing. With the improved ball striking has come renewed confidence and now his sights are set on another European Tour title to add to his previous 18 victories, the first pf which dates back to 1979.
“The game has changed around so the targets and sights are set a bit further ahead,” said the double Major Champion. “I am looking for a win now. This week, or whenever it might be. The way the game is going, it is making more sense to me. I am playing like I used to play and not thinking about the technique as much. The swing is allowing me to play the way I want to play which I haven’t been saying for quite a few years. In the old times when I was thinking of a fade or a cut it is the trigger for a pull shot and it is not much fun. Now it is think fade and it comes off. This is all due to slightly quicker on the backswing.”
There were also two holes in one during the opening round from two Spaniards – Santiago Luna holing a five iron on the fifth hole, unfortunately not on the prize hole, while Jose Manuel Carrilles aced the 15th with the same club to win the new state-of-the-art Nissan Murano, valued at €63,000 and not available in Ireland until next year.
Commenting on the achievement, Gerard O’Toole, Executive Chairman, Nissan Ireland, said: “We are delighted to present the Nissan Murano to Jose Manuel for his tremendous achievement today. This is an exceptional car with a high level of quality and design, so it is fitting that it would be presented to a player like Jose Manuel with the same standards in his game.”