In hopes of racing up the Race to Dubai standings, Finland’s Mikko Ilonen came out firing on all cylinders Thursday at the Irish Open, firing a 7-under 64 to open up a two-shot lead.
After opening up his round wtih a bogey, Ilonen rattled off five birdies on the remainder of the front nine and added three more down the stretch to walk off the course with a 64.
Ilonen entered the field ranked 28th in the Race to Dubai standings. He has a two-stroke lead on Germany’s Marcel Siem and Swede’s Robert Karlsson and Magnus Carlsson.
Siem was about as hot as a player could be on the back nine, with six birdies, including four straight between 12 and 15 after hitting the turn at 1-over.
A further four players are tied for fifth at 4-under, including England’s Matthew Baldwin, who is currently 59th in the Race to Dubai standings, a fairly important number when you realize only the top 60 men in the final standings qualify for the lucrative year-end event.
Pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy is off the reservation after one day, tied for 123rd place at 3-over. The No. 6 player in the world, McIlroy bogeyed four of his first seven holes, and had two more bogeys by No. 14 before birdying No. 18.
Fellow Irish Major winner Padraig Harrington is in considerably better shape after 18 holes; tied for 23rd at 2-under after shooting a 69. A bogey on No. 18 dampened his round a bit, and kept him from being int he Top 10 with the likes of England’s Graeme McDowell, who closed his round with three birdies in the final four holes.
Any man who finishes in the Top 3 of the Irish Open and hasn’t already qualified for the British Open will do so in this event. Only 17 men – including leader Ilonen – have already qualified from the field, meaning spots in the third Major of the year are currently wide open.
England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, in his first professional event, finished tied for 80th with a 1-over 72. He was 2-over at the turn, then birdied No. 11 and 16.