By Brian Keogh
Rory McIlroy produced some ball-striking sparkle to lead the Irish charge at sun-splashed Adare Manor.
Now the Holywood starlet, 19, wants to keep it going as he bids to become the youngest winner in Irish Open history.
After a two-under par 70 left him just four shots behind India’s Jeev Milkha Singh and Aussie Richard Green in a share of 10th, McIlroy wants to go all the way.
He beamed: “A 70 round this golf course isn't going to do you any harm. I didn't do much wrong today and I hit it really nicely and gave myself a lot of opportunities, which is great round here.
"You have got to hit it well round here to have a lot of opportunities. Overall it is a solid start and hopefully I can build on it for the next three days."
Scoring was tough on the 7,453-yard Robert Trent Jones monster with just 29 players in the 156-man field breaking par.
But McIlroy believes he has the game and the form to stick around and contend for his maiden tour victory on Sunday afternoon.
He said: “I feel confident with my ball striking and I have sharpened up my short game, which is good.
"Overall I feel like I have been playing quite nicely. If I can play like that for the next three days I won't be far away.”
Starting at the 10th, McIlroy birdied the 12th and 13th from close range before a three-putt at the 17th stopped his charge.
But he recovered with a brilliant birdie at the 548-yard 18th, blasting a 340-yard drive and then rifling a five-iron over the River Maigue for an easy two-putt birdie.
He almost had an ace at the short fourth, tapping in to get to three under par after a majestic six-iron.
And while he bogeyed his 17th after taking three to get down from a tough lie behind the green, he is feeling good about his chances.
He added: "I feel a lot more comfortable in Europe than I do in the Far East and and it is reflected in my scores. I have prepared well and we'll see what happens over the next few days.
“I am just hitting it pretty well and I know I am quite confident. So I can stand up on tee boxes and hit it a little harder if I want to. It is definitely a big advantage if you can hit it quite long.”
Indian ace Singh had four birdies and a tap in eagle at his 16th before saving an amazing par at his last hole for a sensational six-under par 66.
The former Volvo Masters champion hit his approach to the par-five ninth into trees but managed to chip out to 40 feet and hole the par putt.
Fourth behind Padraig Harrington in the Irish Open and the Open last year, Green was just as impressive alongside McIlroy as he set the target with seven birdies in a 66.
And he confessed that he was impressed by the young Irish star on day when the weather reminded him of home.
Green said: “He’s a great little player. He strikes the ball very well, hits the ball a long way and has all the attributes of an up-and-coming serious champion.
“He’s got a great game and I can’t speak highly enough of him. I can’t think of anything he needs to improve.
"All he needs is experience and that all comes by coming out here and playing in big tournaments, putting himself in positions to win and then trying to win tournaments.”
Green and Singh finished the day two strokes clear of a quartet of players, including last year’s runner up Bradley Dredge.
After four birdies on the back nine, Dredge said: “There are courses you like and others you don’t. Luckily for me, this seems to be one I still like.”