By Brian Keogh
Dutchman Maarten Lafeber paid tribute to his Irish coach as he sloshed his way to an impressive six-under par 64 at a soggy K Club.
The Eindhoven man, 32, grabbed a one-shot lead over a group of four players and left US Open champion Angel Cabrera, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley seven shots adrift on a course reduced by 653 yards because of the weather.
Harrington damaged his favourite driver in practice and never fired with a replacement while McGinley had a yo-yo round with six birdies and seven bogeys as they had matching one over 71s.
But Lafeber took full advantage to fire six birdies in an immaculate morning round and thanked his lucky stars that he decided to return to his old Irish coach.
Lafeber said: “I was playing so poorly for about a year and half so I decided to go back to my old coach Tom O’Mahoney. He’s half Dutch and half Irish, but he comes from Cork originally.
“He played years ago on Tour and he’s been the pro at Noordwijkse Golf Club for over 30 years and I’ve been working with him since I was 15 or 16. He was coach with our national team.
“For a couple of years I worked with a couple of other coaches. In 2005 I went back to him and had a great year, finished 25th in the Order of Merit and contended in a few tournament.
“Then I didn’t work as much with him last year and I felt, well, I’ve just got to work with him and not with anyone else.”
Sodden fairways forced organisers to make the 578-yard par-five to a 162-yard par three, reducing par from 72 to 70 on a day when 23,000 fans braved the mud.
And scoring was good with England’s Robert Rock, Swede Niclas Fasth, India’s Jyothi Randhawa and French ace Gregory Havret just one behind Lafeber after rounds of 65 with defending champion Stephen Dodd and Dane Soren Kjeldsen a shot back on four under.
After a day in bed with 'flu, Gary Murphy leads the Irish brigade after a two-under par 68 that could have been so much better but for a double bogey six at the 14th and another bogey at the 17th.
Four birdies on the trot from the 10th put him just one stroke off the lead on five-under but he plugged his drive in the rough on the 14th and after a free drop, duffed his eight-iron recovery in front of him into more rough.
After chipping out sideways he eventually two-putted from 20 feet for a six and then lipped out for par on the 17th after overshooting the green.
Yet he was still upbeat about his day, despite that late lapse, explaining: “I just made a silly mistake and went for a stupid second shot in hindsight. I was just trying to get it into the front bunker and hit it in front of me.
“Two under is a good score but when you are five under you want to get to six and seven under.
“My wedge play has been incredible and I should probably have come out sidesways and taken my chances instead of trying to be a hero.
“It was difficult day with the crosswind and it was a disappointing finish but c’est la vie.”
But it was an even more disappointing day for Harrington and McGinley as they signed for one over par 71s.
Harrington was one under par with three to play ran up a double bogey six at the 16th after dumping his seven-iron from the rough into the water fronting the green.
But he was more disappointed not to be playing with the driver that won the Irish Open at Adare last month.
Harrington said: “I put a new driver in the bag and it was terrible. The shaft in the other one may be broken.
"I hit a perfect drive off the 18th on Tuesday and I noticed a little thread of graphite had come off, so I changed.
“It seems to be fine but I don’t know if I am allowed to play with it. I will probably go back to the driver I used last year. I will send home for it.”
Officials later confirmed that Harrington is allowed to use his favourite driver if he wants to.
And he may well take that option after hitting just six fairways in a round that featured three birdies, two bogeys and that double.
Harrington said: “I was doing well. At no stage in the day was I unhappy with my score until 16. I hit what I thought was a good tee shot and a good second shot too. I was shocked when it went in the water.
“It was a pity. If I had shot one-under par it would have been a very good score.
“I need to play better than I played today even though it was a good round of scoring up to that. I got the ball up and down well and putted well.
“The course was very playable. And the crowds were fantastic but it was a pity I didn’t give them more to cheer about.”
“Seven shots behind isn’t the end of the world. I would like to have done better. I didn’t play very well."
McGinley smashed his bag with a club in frustration as he bogeyed the 14th and then the 15th and 17th before a birdie at the last wrapped up a roller-coaster round.
Two over after two, he birdied the next three but then added two more bogeys and a birdie to turn in level before a birdie at the 10th put him in red figures.
Disappointed with his back nine, McGinley said: “It is frustrating. What did I have, six birdies and shoot one over par? That is not good enough. That is the bottom line.
“The good, the bad and the ugly is probably the best way to describe the round. I did well to shoot 71. It could have been a lot worse. I am glad I had six birdies.
“I did well to come back from the start but I made silly bogeys on the 14th and 15th. I haven’t got the power to get out of the rough here so it is imperative for me to drive the ball well.”