Ryan Fox carded a five under par 67 to take the first round lead at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation – the fourth Rolex Series event of the season – with Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett among those a shot back.
The New Zealander, who showed his class on links courses last year with consecutive fourth-placed finishes at Royal Portstewart and Dundonald Links, carded six birdies and one bogey to sit one ahead of a chasing pack which includes three-time Major winner Harrington, 2016 Masters Champion Willett and 23-time European Tour winner Westwood.
Harrington, who holds the record for the most top-ten finishes in Dubai Duty Free Irish Open history with eight, chipped in for eagle on the par-five 17th before making three birdies in four holes over the back nine to sign for a 68.
Joining Harrington on four under par after 18 holes are a French duo of Adrien Saddier and Matthieu Pavon, and an English trio Robert Rock, Ashley Chesters and Westwood, while tournament host Rory McIlroy sits three off the lead after carding a two under par first round of 70 at Ballyliffin Golf Club.
“I hit driver a lot, and there are a lot of patches of rough. I drove it nicely. I think I probably only hit five or six fairways, but missed them in the right places and hit a lot of good drives that just ran through fairways so I gave myself a lot of chances.
“We took the same theory with this event last year with the rough down and it worked. Links golf can be kind of funny sometimes. You get penalised for just missing a fairway bunker or just missing it in the long stuff off the fairway but quite often where the crowds walk, it’s quite nice.
“I guess I just take it on now and sometimes a bit easier hacking a lob-wedge out of the rough than it is a seven-iron out of the fairways with some of the contours and the firmness.
“I’d love to be in The Open and Carnoustie is one of the best golf courses in the world I think and I’d love the chance to play there in an Open. As good a start as I can have, really, and hopefully three more rounds and if I can sneak in that top five like last year and get an Open spot, that would be great.”
“There was some good and bad but on a links golf course you could get away with that at times, and I knew I could create some opportunities out there. Thankfully, my short game was good enough to handle the odd bad shot and I hit plenty of good ones.
“It definitely plays into my strengths. I think a lot of times, a lot of tournaments I play now would be the opposite. The whole field plays it a certain way and you know, maybe the most orthodox player tends to have an advantage, which I suppose is right but when it comes to links golf that’s not the case.
“It’s a really nice, traditional golf course. It’s a fine test. It’s very narrow; I’ll say that, which is I suppose the modern way of doing it. It will be a lot narrower than Carnoustie or any of the Open venues we go to. That’s interesting, but the rest of it, it’s really just a traditional links and sits there nicely on land and ebbs and flows, with lots of doglegs. You’ve got to be really thinking as you go around.”
“It’s bogey-free and I played solidly. I gave myself a lot of good chances and never in too much trouble, didn’t miss too many fairways, which is key around here. You can get some real jumpy lies just off the fairway, and controlled my ball flight well.
“I like this golf course. It’s good, honest, solid test and very fair. It’s one of the best links golf courses I’ve seen in quite some time.
“Generally when you’re playing links golf, the good scoring is done in the morning, and that is how it would appear on the leaderboard right now. Most of the good scores are in the morning. We’ll just have to see for the rest of the week.”
“I played good pretty much most of the day, even the dropped shot on three, hit just in the rough and you get a flyer and you can’t quite control it. That’s the kind of golf course it is.
“I played some really nice stuff in there, holed out really well, and it was nice to see that the scoring didn’t go too much out of the way with the morning and afternoon draws. It looked a little bit softer this morning, a little bit windier. I think you can’t ask for better weather.
“It’s fantastic. They are running even. Last week they took in the fairways last week and this week is the same.
“They have set the golf course up really fair. If you hit good shots, you can make some good scores. If you get out of position or get in a few of the pot bunkers or you hit in the rough, you obviously can’t control the spin out of the rough with the flyers. It’s a good, fair test of golf.”
“It could have been a lot better. It’s the best I have hit the ball in a long time. I put the ball in play, what I needed to do, and drove the ball very well. My iron play was good. I just struggled on the greens. It was either I hit good putts and just didn’t read them right, or sometimes it was maybe a reaction to putts I had hit previously on a couple holes earlier.
“I just got into my head a little bit. I held some decent putts. I held a couple of good ones for par. I held a nice one on 12 for birdie but I’m going to need to putt a little bit better over the next three days to have a chance.”
67 R Fox (Nzl) ,
68 R Rock (Eng) , M Pavon (Fra) , P Harrington (Irl) , A Saddier (Fra) , A Chesters (Eng) , L Westwood (Eng) , D Willett (Eng) ,
69 S Horsfield (Eng) , J Lagergren (Swe) , N Elvira (Esp) , S Jamieson (Sco) , A Otaegui (Esp) , A Björk (Swe) , J Choi (Kor) , Y Miyazato (Jpn) , D Frittelli (RSA) ,
70 R McIlroy (Nir) , S Kjeldsen (Den) , W Ormsby (Aus) , P Uihlein (USA) , Evans ( eng) , M Ilonen (Fin) , Z Lombard (RSA) , M Warren (Sco) , R Ramsay (Sco) , J Campillo (Esp) , A Romero (Arg) , C Wood (Eng) ,
71 R Jacquelin (Fra) , G Bourdy (Fra) , P Hanson (Swe) , R Knox (Sco) , G Fernandez – Castaño (Esp) , G Coetzee (RSA) , H Tanihara (Jpn) , T Aiken (RSA) , T Immelman (RSA) , G McDowell (Nir) , P Waring (Eng) , M Schwab (Aut) , D Burmester (RSA) , E Van Rooyen (RSA) ,
72 C Bezuidenhout (RSA) , J Dantorp (Swe) , M Baldwin (Eng) , S Lowry (Irl) , L Gagli (Ita) , P Khongwatmai (Tha) , B Hebert (Fra) , A Rai (Eng) , S Thornton (Irl) , T Olesen (Den) , M Nixon (Eng) , C Syme (Sco) , N Colsaerts (Bel) , B Dredge (Wal) , J Kruyswijk (RSA) , M Southgate (Eng) , M Manassero (Ita) , D Fichardt (RSA) , F Aguilar (Chi) , C Paisley (Eng) , R Wattel (Fra) , R McGee (Irl) ,
73 R Gouveia (Por) , C Ford (Eng) , J Smith (Eng) , A Wu (Chn) , J Scrivener (Aus) , D Lipsky (USA) , F Zanotti (Par) , J Morrison (Eng) , A Sullivan (Eng) , K Aphibarnrat (Tha) , L Slattery (Eng) , P Dunne (Irl) , H Li (Chn) , J Winther (Den) , G Moynihan (Irl) , C Sharvin (Nir) , M Siem (Ger) , T Pieters (Bel) , G Green (Mas) , T Bjørn (Den) , P McGinley (Irl) , T Jaidee (Tha) , C Moriarty (Irl) , D Howell (Eng) , S Chawrasia (Ind) , H Porteous (RSA) ,
74 J Wang (Kor) , J Rahm (Esp) , R Bland (Eng) , M Korhonen (Fin) , D Horsey (Eng) , D Brooks (Eng) , S Sharma (Ind) , S Brown (Eng) , R Cho (Kor) , P Larrazábal (Esp) , O Fisher (Eng) , A Pavan (Ita) , B Stone (RSA) , C Sordet (Fra) , A Dodt (Aus) , T Detry (Bel) ,
75 S Gros (Fra) , L Canter (Eng) , J Walters (RSA) , R Paratore (Ita) , N Geyger (Chi) , C Shinkwin (Eng) , L Bjerregaard (Den) , S Fernandez (Esp) , D Clarke (Nir) , A Quiros (Esp) , R Sterne (RSA) , M Kieffer (Ger) , A Connelly (Can) , M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) , C Pigem (Esp) ,
76 M Fraser (Aus) , A Bland (Aus) , E Molinari (Ita) , C McNamara (Irl) , E Pepperell (Eng) , J Suri (USA) , R Cabrera Bello (Esp) , G Havret (Fra) , D Drysdale (Sco) , J Guerrier (Fra) , R Karlsson (Swe) ,
77 S Brazel (Aus) , M Foster (Eng) , T Pulkkanen (Fin) , M Fitzpatrick (Eng) , O Farr (Wal) , M Kinhult (Swe) , C Blomstrand (Swe) ,
78 S Lee (Kor) , C Koepka (USA) , P Oriol (Esp) , N O’Briain (Irl) , S Hend (Aus) , B Rumford (Aus) , S Gallacher (Sco) ,
79 B Neil (Sco) , L Jensen (Den) ,
80 N Bertasio (Ita) , A Levy (Fra) , H Sturehed (Swe) , D Im (USA) , M Wallace (Eng) ,
82 J Norris (Aus) ,
** C Hanson (Eng)