By Brian Keogh
Rory McIlroy was blown away on the back nine as an unknown Czech grabbed the first round lead in the AIB Irish Amateur Open at new-look Royal Dublin.
The reigning European Amateur champion and world number six was disappointed to drop five shots in a six hole spell on the back nine on his way to one over par 73.
The 18-year-old Holywood ace had scorched to four under par after just six holes at the renovated Dollymount links but with wind and rain lashing the course, the event’s star attraction finished the day two shots adrift of 22-year-old Czech student Marek Novy, who compiled an amazing one under par 71 in the worst of the afternoon weather.
Walker Cup hopefuls Lloyd Saltman and Keir McNicoll of Scotland, Welshman Rhys Enoch and Finn Joonas Granberg share second place after level par 72s with Rosslare’s John Morris in a five-way tie for third place alongside the likes of McIlroy and US Amateur champion Richie Ramsay after a 73.
McIlroy said: "I played the front nine in four under when it was nice and calm. But on the back nine it got a little tougher and I lost my momentum. I hit a couple of loose shots and I paid the price for them but overall 73 is a pretty good score."
Playing with Saltman, last week’s Lytham Trophy winner, McIlroy fired a sand wedge to three feet at the first and then rifled a seven-iron to 15 feet to set up an eagle at the second when the weather was relatively benign.
A 70 yard bunker shot to eight feet helped him birdie the par-five sixth and put him top of the leaderboard in an event that features no fewer than 13 of the 23-man Walker Cup squad.
But everything changed on the back nine as wind and rain made scoring tough for the elite 120-man field.
A bogey at the par five 11th, where he took four to get down from just short of the green, enraged McIlroy, who reacted by smashing a club into his golf bag and went on to drop three shots in the next two holes.
A pulled tee shot at the par-three 12th led to another bogey before two more strokes went at the 13th after he pushed his drive into the drain on the right, pitched out off the gravel but then missed the green with his third and failed to get up and down.
A bogey at the 16th, where he missed a three-footer for par, ended his agony but he knows he is still well in the hunt to make amends for his play-off defeat to Finn Antti Ahokas in this championship last year.
McIlroy added: "I haven't played myself out of it. There are a lot of high scores and I'll probably be in the top five at the end of the day.
"It's been an okay first day but hopefully I can improve on it tomorrow. It's just a normal links course. I think if it was calm you could rip it up."
Leader Novy, who hails from the Czech beer capital of Pilsen and is the reigning Czech matchplay and strokeplay champion, was delighted with a round that featured three birdies and just two bogeys.
Out in level par with a birdie at the second and a bogey at the eighth, he dropped another shot at the tough 10th but made amends with birdies at the long 11th and driveable 16th.
Playing links golf for just the third time, he beamed: "We were pretty lucky with the weather in a way because the wind was coming across on the back nine rather than straight against. I'll have beer tonight. Maybe a Guinness, just to help me sleep!"
AIB IRISH AMATEUR OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP, Royal Dublin
71 M Novy (Czech Republic)
72 R Enoch (Wales), J Granberg (Finland), L Saltman (Scotland), K McNicoll (Scotland)
73 R Zwahlen (France), K McAlpine (Scotland), J Morris (Rosslare), R Ramsay (Scotland), R McIlroy (Holywood)
74 L Lennox (Moyola Park), R McCarthy (The Island), N Edwards (Wales), P Figueiredo (Portugal), R Bechu (France), R Kilpatrick (Banbridge), J Caldwell (Clandeboye),
B Walton (The Island/UCD), P O'Hara (Scotland), C Geraghty (England), S McAllister (Scotland), G Campbell (Scotland), C Doran (Banbridge)
75 N Grant (Knock), P Cutler (Portstewart), K Le Sager (France), R Thuillier (France), B Fotheringham (Scotland), P Murray (Limerick), R McKnight (Scotland)
76 C Macaulay (Scotland), S Henry (Scotland), G Cambis (France), Z Gould (Wales), B Evans (England), X Poncelet (France), E Richardson (England), Z Saltman (Scotland), M Veijalainen (Finland), B Grace (South Africa), L Allen (England), A McCloy (Ballymena)
77 R Thomas (Wales), A Hogan (Newlands/UCD), D Leathem (Lisburn), A Rosado (Portugal), R Cannon (L'town & B'town), J Carvill (Warrenpoint), J Savolampi (Finland), A Ross (Canada), G Lawlor (Citywest), J McGinn (Laytown & Bettystown), M Gaynor (U.S.A.), P McLean (Scotland), N Kearney (Royal Dublin), B Westgate (England)
78 G O'Neill (Jersey), E O'Sullivan (The Island), M Armitage (England), A Runcie (Wales), M Sinclair (Knock), R McNamara (Headfort), T Ortner (Austria), S Ward (Co Louth), D Lernihan (Castle/UCD), J Lyons (Galway)
79 B Norton (U.S.A.), S McEwan (Scotland), S Doherty (Malone), J Smedley (England), E McAnoy (Knock), J Pernaa (Finland), S Lowry (UCD/Esker Hills), J Guillet (France), M Thistleton (England), D Morgan (Mullingar), W Rieder (Austria)
80 C Cousins (Wales), S Kindsted (Finland), N Henriques (Portugal), B Jones (England), J Haglund (Finland), M McCoy (U.S.A.), E O'Connell (The Fox Club), L Matthews (Wales), R Kellett (Scotland), C Vance (England)
81 M O'Sullivan (Stow Acres), R Leonard (Banbridge), S Archibald (England), T Sistonen (Finland), G Carew (Edenderry), E Mercadier (France), M Barbosa (U.S.A.), J Dale (England), T Halpen (Canada)
82 S O'Brien (U.S.A.), M Salminen (Finland), S Grant (Birr), P Nelson (South Africa), P O'Hanlon (Curragh)
83 N Catesson (France), J Vickery (Wales), E Saxel (England), N Kirchner (Austria), C Mivis (Belgium)
84 K Hammer (U.S.A.), R Boal (Scrabo)
85 A Gabella Wenne (Sweden), B Kosmin (France)
86 C Scotto (France), A Fadel (U.S.A.), W McCully (Donaghadee)
87 T Wyatt (U.S.A.)
88 T McGowan (Strandhill), N Tyry (Finland)
89 J Shufflebotham (Wales), R Merchant (Wales)
90 C Levitte (France)
93 R Maunder (England)