Rory McIlroy produced one of the shots of the day in Killarney - then shot himself in the foot in a blazing Twitter row that puts an unwelcome spotlight back on his caddie.
The US Open champion branded TV commentator and former tour player Jay Townsend a “failed golfer” and told him to “shut up” for criticising his course management skills and his caddie.
Flamboyant McIlroy hit an incredible “40 or 50 yard” hook around a towering oak to just eight feet at the 14th to remain in the early lead on three under with four to play.
But then made a mess of the 18th, splashing down in a pond after daringly going for the green from a fairway bunker.
He walked off with a double bogey six, signing for a one-under 70 that left him seven shots behind pace-setter Jeev Milkha Singh.
His finish drew criticism from Townsend, whose commentary was used by RTE. The American lashed McIlroy and his caddie JP Fitzgerald on air - and later on Twitter - or his shot selection on the 18th.
Townsend, who’s best finish during his European Tour career was finishing second behind Sam Torrance in the 54-hole Heineken Open de Catalonia in 1993, called McIlroy’s decision-making on the 18th “some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond under 10’s boys golf competition.”
Fed up McIlroy later explained that the American pundit has been constantly attacking Fitzgerald since they teamed up for the first time at Crans in 2008, explaining that Ernie Els had gone as far as phoning him to tell him what Townsend had been saying on air.
McIlroy said: “He’s been having a go at JP every now and again since then and this was the first time I’ve responded - it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“Now I’ve blocked him on Twitter so I won’t be reading anything more.”
Townsend tweeted that McIlroy “should hire (Tiger’s ex-caddie) Stevie Williams, as I thought JP allowed some SHOCKING course management today.”
But McIlroy immediately hit back by telling his 545,000 plus followers: “Shut up…. You’re a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!”
Townsend, who works for European Tour Productions whose feed is used worldwide by the Golf Channel and others, replied: “Sorry, but I stand by my comments.”
But McIlroy said: “Well, I stand by my caddie.”
Open champion Darren Clarke defended both his former caddie Fitzgerald and commentator Townsend after his round.
Clarke said: “Everybody has wonderful opinions now and again. End of. JP is a great guy and one of the best caddies that I have ever had on my bag and I respect Jay as a commentator as well. So they are both entitled to their opinions.”
As for his opening round, McIlroy was disappointed to drop two shots at the last and blamed a bad day with the driver as he hit just four of 15 fairways.
Commenting on his finish, he said: “To be honest, my fairway bunker play wouldn’t be one of the strongest points of my game.
“It was a tough shot over water with a wedge, I was aiming it right and trying to draw it in and sort of overturned it a bit and caught it a bit heavy.”
The world No 4 made a sensational start to the tournament despite not playing his best golf. He birdied the fourth from 15 feet, the sixth and eight from 30 feet and the par-three 10th from just two feet to race to the top of the leaderboard on four under.
His wayward driving almost caught up with him at the 14th when he blocked a three wood behind an oak tree.
But he thrilled the massive galleries with a sensational recovery out of the rough, hooking a wedge 40 yards in the air and onto the green.
He said: “To be honest all I was trying to do was to get it in the front bunker. I had 125 yards to the front and 30 to the pin and had to hit it, must have been a 40 or 50yard hook with a sand wedge and luckily enough just got over the bunker.
“It would have been great to make three there but I would have taken a four from where I saw my ball after the tee shot.”
Grinning, he added: “I’d rather not play extravagant shots; I’d rather just be playing from the middle of the fairway.
“It’s great to play in front of crowds like that and it’s also nice to be able to please them every now and again.
“I just have to work on my driving and hitting the ball off the tee needs to be a little better. Apart from that, it was pretty good.
“I thought my short game and my putting was really good today. It’s something I’ll need to keep up for the next three days.”