By Brian Keogh
A frustrated Rory McIlroy discovered just how cut-throat the European Tour can be as he finished a challenging ten shots off the lead after the first round of the Portugal Masters on the sunny Algarve.
Playing in just his fourth event as a professional, the 18-year-old Holywood starlet confessed that mental tiredness got the better of him as he opened with one under par 71 on a day when Germany’s Martin Kaymer blitzed the field with an increidible, 11-under par 61 at Victoria Clube de Golfe.
Kaymer’s effort was the joint best score on the European Tour this season, leaving him three shots clear of Argentina’s Daniel Vancsik and Swede Martin Erlandsson with Gregory Bourdy, Retief Goosen and Lee Westwood four shots behind in fourth place despite going round the 7,177 yard course in seven under par 65.
“It’s my sixth week out of seven so I am a little bit frazzled,” McIlroy said after a round that featured four birdies and three bogeys. “I let a few things get to me out there and that is just tiredness. Overall it wasn’t very good but I’ll try to improve on it tomorrow morning, make the cut and hopefully have a good weekend.
“It’s okay - similar to the first rounds I had in the Dunhill Links and Madrid. I just didn’t play very well and struggled with my ball-striking and putting.”
Peter Lawrie leads the Irish challenge on five under par after a six-birdie 67 and warned that 22-year-old Kaymer, who challenged for the Wales Open and Scandinavian Masters earlier this season, will struggle to produce a satisfying follow up round.
“I don’t think I’ve ever shot five under and finished up six behind the leader in the first round,” said Lawrie, who needs another €150,000 over the next two weeks to qualify for the Volvo Masters. “That hasn’t happen me since my pitch and putt days.
"Let’s see how the leader does in the afternoon when the greens are as firm and crusty as they were today. I’ll try to put in a decent score in the morning and see where that leaves me. In the afternoon the greens are firm and it is very hard to stop the ball close to the pins.”
Kaymer qualified for the tour through last season’s Challenge Tour rankings and is 54th in the Order of Merit and the favourite to land the Rookie of the Year award.
After going out in four under par 32, he came home in 29 with birdies at the last five holes. Yet his 61 was still two strokes shy of his low round as a professional - a 13 under par 59 in the Habsberg Classic on the EPD mini tour last year.
“I've been waiting for this day for a couple of weeks," said Kaymer after his course record effort. “My putting has been so-so, but today every putt went in.”
Gary Murphy is the next bext of the Irish after a solid 68 with Paul McGinley and Damien McGrane tied with Order of Merit candidate Justin Rose on three under par after morning 69s.
“You shoot 69 and come in a see a 61,” McGinley said, shaking his head and smiling wryly. “It's a golf course that is over 7,000 yards long and the people at home will be looking at the coverage and thinking it must be a pitch-and-putt course.
"But there are a lot tough shots out there and a bit of grain in the greens. It just shows you the quality of golf we have on the European Tour.”
Rose needs a top-two finish to leapfrog Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els at the top of the Order of Merit heading into the season ending Volvo Masters, where the South African will not be teeing it up due to the clashing Barclays Singapore Open.
Four of the world’s top ten are playing in Singapore, including Westwood, Goosen and Darren Clarke, who carded a two under par 70 that left him just inside the projected cut mark at Vilamoura.