GRÉGORY Bourdy took full advantage of the local knowledge bestowed upon him by Darren Clarke as a seven under par round of 65 moved him into the joint lead alongside Jeev Milkha Singh in the first round of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
Padraig Harrington was the best of the Irish contingent, finishing on five under par.
The three-time major champion, playing with Graeme McDowell and Simon Dyson recorded six birdies and just one bogey in his round.
“I am very, very happy with the score and certainly would have taken that going out,” said Harrington.
“It keeps me well in position with the only disappointment, and taking some of the shine off my round, was the three-putt for bogey at the last.”
Singh is visiting Northern Ireland for the first time and he spoke of his joy in competing on a links course after having made his link’s debut as a then 16-year-old in the 1988 British Amateur championship at Royal Porthcawl in Wales.
“The atmosphere and the feel to the golf course is fantastic,” said the 40 year old.
“When you have so many people cheering and watching you I think you feel great.”
Singh, who was presented with a 21 year old bottle of single malt whisky by Darren Clarke before the event, had precious little experience of playing links golf growing up in Chandigarh, but mastered the course and conditions in a dynamic display.
“I love links golf, you have to hit a lot of low shots and you have to have a lot of imagination,” said the three-time European Tour champion.
“When I went out I thought ‘My God, this is tough’. I wasn’t used to wearing raingear.”
Play was suspended for 95 minutes midway through the opening round of the first Irish Open to be held in Northern Ireland since 1953, but Singh came in just before the delay and set the pace early on thanks chiefly to a six under par front nine of 30.
Bourdy then followed suit, and he had a Darren Clarke to thank for his success. After playing his practice round on Tuesday alongside Clarke, Bourdy did not record a single bogey as he racked up seven birdies in front of record crowds, with 23,283 attending the opening day.
“I played with Darren on Tuesday and it was great,” he said.
“He gave me a lot of advice which was good, and it was fantastic to play with a guy who won The Open the year before, on his home course too.
“He knows the course really well, and he was great with me on Tuesday. For sure, it helped me a lot today and I’m going to thank him. I will try to play the same game tomorrow and for the rest of the week.”
Former Open champion, American John Daly, was in the first group out at 7.30am and returned a 71.
Asked if he was a good early riser he replied: “I am now. I get up when I used to get in!”
England’s Mark Foster started his Irish Open with a 66 after receiving a blessing from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Foster carded seven birdies to a single bogey and lies one shot off the clubhouse lead.
“He (Tutu) was sat behind me on the flight over and I had my photograph taken with him,” said the Worksop golfer, chasing only his second European Tour victory in more than 300 starts.
“There were some others on the plane who were more excited about Ronan Keating being there, but I told him it was an honour to meet him.
“You don’t get a chance to meet someone like that very often and after shaking his hand he gave me God’s blessing.”
Perhaps just as important were some words from his wife Sophie before he headed for the airport.
“I had a massive negative not qualifying for The Open on Monday (he actually pulled out despite an opening 70 in the 36-hole event) and was really down,” he said.
“But she told me I’d played well on Sunday in Germany, it’s only Monday, so let’s go again Tuesday.”