By Brian Keogh

Thunder-faced Darren Clarke stormed from the recorder's hut at Fota Island and raged: "I've messed it up again."

The Dungannon man was four under par and cruising after 10 holes of his first round but dropped three shots coming home, two in the last three holes, to finish with a disappointing round of 70.

And the 30-year old could hardly hide his disappointment, despite the fact that he is still not out of the reckoning.

"It's the same as usual," he complained. "I get myself into a position to have a great score and then I mess it up."

Clarke was re-living the disappointments of the US Masters and US Open this year where he was in a good position both times only to drop shots late in his rounds.

The Ulsterman left it to caddie Billy Foster to recount the 'gory' details of a scorecard that promised so much. Fellow Irishmen Padraig Harrington (67), Paul McGinley (69), club pro John Dwyer (69) and 22-year-old Athlone amateur Colm Moriarty (68) all stole a march on the world number 13.

By stark contrast to Clarke, Harrington was positively beaming as he strode into the media centre after turning what could have been a very ordinary score into an excellent 67.

Harrington said : "My wrist injury was all forgotten about after nine holes of the pro-am. But my concentration was bad early on today and I could have heard a butterfly beating its wings in the next field for the first few holes.

"But the atmosphere is great and it's nice to play in front of a home crowd and it got better when I started to make a few birdies."

Starting at the 10th Harrington was out in level par 35 but picked up four shots on his homeward nine, three of them in a row form the 4th, to give himself the perfect start.

One under par after just two holes, Harrington was forced to improve his concentration after receiving a wake up call in the form of bogeys at he 12th and the 14th where he failed to chip and putt each time.

After firing a six iron to eight feet at the 16th to get back to level, the Dubliner got up and down for pars at the first and second holes before starting his birdie blitz.

"Once I got through nine holes I said to myself there are 63 holes to go and there are plenty of opportunities on the front nine," he said. "I played the last seven holes really well and I'm delighted to turn it around like that. If you start badly you usually get down on yourself and end up shooting one or two over par. Sometimes you can get it to one or two under but I would certainly have taken four under, without a doubt. I'm very pleased with that and I'd take it every day."

Harrington's luck started to change once he reached the par-five 4th hole. Two putts from the front edge got him back under par for his round and when he holed from four feet for a birdie four at then next his early problems were forgotten about.

The Stackstown man 'chipped' a lob-wedge to six feet at the 376 yard 6th and then birdied the toughest hole on the course - the 478-yard par four 8th ­ where he rifled a six-iron to just 12 feet and holed the putt.

It was all in stark contrast to Clarke. After holing from five and 15 feet at the 10th and 16th to go two under par, he then reduced the 507 yard par five 18th to a driver, eight iron and two putts to turn in three under.

A super six-iron to four feet at the first got him to four under before the wheels fell off. Bunkered in two at the second he failed to save his par from 10 feet at then finished miserably with bogeys at the 7th and 8th where he failed to get up and down after missing he green both times.

There was similar disappointment for veteran Des Smyth.

The 48 year old shot a level par 71 in which, like Clarke, he dropped two shots over the last three holes. Said the Drogheda man: "I would have settled for a 69. The course is playing very long and tricky but 71 is not a bad score out there today."

Meanwhile, Wexford's Damien McGrane continued his great form with a one under par 70 while invitee Keith Nolan made a welcome return home for his US with a level par 71.

But it was also a great day for Ashbourne's John Dwyer who matched Ryder Cup hopeful McGinley with a two under par 69 that included four birdies and just two bogeys.

Dubliner McGinley hit 16 greens in regulation and birdied three of the four par fives, but admitted that he found it hard to judge the pace of greens that had slowed considerably with the afternoon showers.

McGinley said : "The conditions were tougher in the afternoon although Montgomerie didn't seem to have a problem once he got off to a flyer.

"The course is playing exceptionally long with a lot of holes on the back nine requiring a driver and a long iron or fairway wood to get home. I was pleased to get up and down for birdie from 73 yards at the last and I just hope this weather front blows over before I go out in the morning."

But there was no fairytale story form Philip Walton this year. One of the heroes at Ballybunion, Walton started brilliantly with birdies at the 1st, 3rd and 10th holes before he hit a brick wall. Three dropped shots from the 12th to the 15th knocked the stuffing out of the Malahide man who finished with a miserable bogey six at the last to card a one over par 72.