Foster off to a flyer

6/28/2012 11:14:48 AM
Mark Foster  (Getty Images)
Mark Foster (Getty Images)
England's Mark Foster birdied six of his first ten holes to burst into an early three stroke lead as Northern Ireland staged its first Irish Open since 1953.

Watched by a sell-out crowd which included First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness, Foster reached the turn in a superb 31 and then two-putted the long tenth.

That put the 36 year old, with just one victory in over 300 European Tour events, six under par and two ahead of 19 year old Irish amateur Dermot McElroy, who followed an eagle on the long ninth with back-to-back birdies at the start of the inward half.

Compatriot Michael Hoey and South African Keith Horne started impressively on three under, but 2010 US Open Champion Graeme McDowell fell out of the group on minus two when he ran up a double bogey seven at the long 17th after misjudging the wind with his third shot.

McDowell admits to feeling immense pride at the staging of the event in his home town - he is a member of the adjoining Rathmore club - and Irishman Padraig Harrington, his playing partner for the first two rounds, has also spoken of how thrilled he is too at the return of the championship north of the border.

It follows a remarkable period for Ireland's golfers. Harrington won three Majors, then Rory McIlroy followed McDowell as US Open Champion and Darren Clarke, another Ulsterman, lifted The Open last July.

Harrington turned in two under after birdies at the tenth and 17th - the two back fives on the back nine - and both he and McDowell took a brief time out to shake hands with Robinson and McGuinness as they headed from the 18th green to the first tee.

The championship began in heavy rain, but much to the delight of players and fans alike the skies cleared, although dark clouds did not look far away.

McIlroy, Clarke and US PGA Champion Keegan Bradley - he has Irish roots - were among the later starters.

Ryder Cup Captain José María Olazáal was another on two under, while Scot Paul Lawrie, paired with the Spaniard for the third time in under two months, continued his bid to make a return to the European Team after 13 years by turning in one under.

His lead remained only two as Horne, four times a winner in his home country, birdied the 12th and 13th, while Harrington reached four under when he two-putted the long second and then almost aced the 174 yard next.

McDowell also birdied the second and a 15 foot putt at the difficult fourth got him back to two under, but Harrington could not make the green from the rough and bogeyed to slip back to three under.

At six under he was one ahead of Horne and Spaniard Carlos Del Moral, who turned in 32 and then birdied the 478 yard par five tenth.

Harrington, Olazábal and defending champion Simon Dyson were three under, McDowell two under and Lawrie one under alongside 1995 Open Champion John Daly and new Amateur champion Alan Dunbar, like McDowell from the nearby Rathmore club.

Dyson chipped in at the seventh, but his birdie was matched by an 18 footer from Harrington and so both moved into a tie for third on four under, two behind Foster and Horne, who two-putted the long 17th.