Motor racing fan Simon Ward scorched off the grid to hit the front on the Gecko Pro Tour in Spain.
Nearly nine years after losing to Rory McIlroy in a playoff for the Mullingar Scratch Cup, the 28-year old former international from Carrickmacross fired a six under par 66 at Parador de Malaga to lead after the first round. Scores
Unfazed by anything after going up against McIlroy several times during his amateur career, Ward had seven birdies (four of them in his last five holes) in a super round to lead by one from Daniel Seron after the first of two rounds.
Ward lost to McIlroy in the final of the 2006 Irish Amateur Close at the European Club before falling to the Ulsterman a few months later in a playoff for the 2006 Mullingar Scratch Trophy after the pair had finished on 13 under par.
At the time McIlroy said: "I was a bit frustrated with my putting out there this afternoon but I got the job done. A play-off against a good putter like Simon in not what you want but I got over the line and that's what matters.
"After losing to Gareth last year it is a nice feeling to get the win here. It is a great strokeplay event and it is nice to come back and win this with all the best players here."
In the play-off, the first was halved in birdie threes before McIlroy eventually claimed the title with a par to Ward's bogey at the ninth after the Carrickmacross native found a poor lie in a fairway bunker.
McIlroy added: "Simon was a bit unlucky to find a leaf near his ball in the play-off but he's had a fantastic year and I wouldn't be surprised if he got on the three-man Ireland team from the Eisenhower Trophy.
"I played a practice round with him and he said his ambition for next year is to get on the Walker Cup team and I don't think it is beyond him."
A disappointed Ward said: "I just just unbelievably unlucky with the lie I got in the bunker. I had two divots near my ball and a leaf on top of it. I had good vibes coming in here after Lahinch last week. I thought I had the putt to keep the play-off going but that is the way it goes."
McIlroy revealed just last year that the 2006 Mullingar Scratch Cup nearly made him give up the game. As we can see from looking back at the reports, it was the world No 1's putting that was frustrating him.
“Yeah, I was ready to give it up and I remember the drive home with my dad after I had just won the Mullingar Scratch Cup,” McIlroy said last year. “It was about a three-hour drive and I remember saying that I’ve just won but I don’t feel happy.
“I got back home and didn’t play golf for about three days and just didn’t practice. I must have been an impulsive teenager going through some hormonal issues.
“But that was like the only time. Apart from that, I love the game. It’s been great to me over the years. As I said, this is what I always wanted to do. I’m really enjoying it. But there was a teenage rebellion, yes, for three days.
“I look back on it now, and my parents were actually so good and said: ‘Look, Rory, we just want you to be happy and do whatever you want to do and enjoy it’.
“Probably on the inside they’re saying, ‘what’s he thinking? What’s he doing?’ There was no panic and it was just me being a grumpy teenager."