• Irish Open, Round One

Late errors peg back McIlroy as Harrington soars

ESPN staff
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Graeme McDowell had another erratic day © Getty Images
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Two late bogeys spoiled an otherwise healthy-looking card as Rory McIlroy finished a rain-interrupted first round at the Irish Open on two-under-par - five shots off the lead.

McIlroy was desperate to regain some form having missed four of his last five halfway cuts, and he was two under through eight when the threat of thunderstorms caused play to be suspended for a number of hours during the afternoon.

The 2011 US Open champion shrugged off the break, rolling in two birdies after the turn to continue his positive start. However, with his driving wayward from the tee (he only found four of 14 fairways), the Ulsterman was relying heavily on sound iron play to reach the greens in regulation. It was almost inevitable that mistakes would creep in - a bogey at 16 highlighting the lack of consistency he is badly searching for. He dropped a shot at the last to undo more of his good work but he is by no means out of it after a 70 left him on two-under.

Reigning US PGA champion Keegan Bradley found it hard to establish a rhythm, making birdies, bogeys and a double bogey en route to a one-over 73. McIlroy's compatriot Darren Clarke was in a spot of bother after three bogeys in a row saw him hit the turn in 38, but three birdies in a bogey-free back nine lifted him to one-under for the day.

A day after saying it would be "ridiculous" to bet on him to win the Irish Open, Padraig Harrington began his campaign with a five-under par round of 67 to sit two shots off the early lead.

The three-time major champion, who had laughed at his pre-tournament odds for victory, had six birdies and just a solitary bogey during his round at Royal Portrush - coming home in 33 shots at the tricky links course to get his week off to a fine start.

The highlight for the Irishman came at the eighth - as he chipped in from the deep rough short and right of the green to claim a hugely unlikely birdie.

That left him just two shots behind leader Jeev Milkha Singh and one adrift of Mark Foster, who edged ahead of his rivals to get in the clubhouse at six-under mainly thanks to an outward nine of 31.

A number of players were level with Harrington at five-under, including Keith Horne, Nicolas Colsaerts and the tournament's defending champion, Simon Dyson.

Dyson, who won last year at Killarney, was unfazed by the challenge presented by the County Antrim layout - making an eagle three at the par-five second (his 11th) on the way to a sterling start.

One man who did not start well, however, was home favourite Graeme McDowell - who seemed to have reverted to his slightly inconsistent ways after finishing second at the US Open on his last outing.

McDowell, starting on the tenth, opened with a bogey and had reached two-under after five holes - before a double-bogey seven at the par-five 17th undid much of his good work.

Two further birdies during the second half of the round slowly regained what the Portrush native had lost, but another slip-up at the seventh forced him to settle for a one-under par round of 71.

European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal is two-under after the first round, level with Paul Lawrie - a man desperately striving to qualify for the Spaniard's team. Michael Hoey, another local lad who won last year's Dunhill Links Championship, also shot 70.

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