Hoey and McDowell leave "sloppy" McIlroy trailing
Rory McIlroy "celebrates" his closing birdie at the ninth. Picture: Fran Caffrey  www.golffile.ie

Rory McIlroy "celebrates" his closing birdie at the ninth. Picture: Fran Caffrey www.golffile.ie

Northern lights Graeme McDowell and Michael Hoey left new Olympic star Rory McIlroy in their dust in the first round of the Irish Open.

As flying Finn Mikko Ilonen scorched to a course record, seven under 64 to lead by two shots from Swedes Magnus Carlsson and Robert Karlsson and German ace Marcel Siem, McIlroy crashed to a jet-lagged, three over 74.

The world No 6 was outscored by Irish amateurs Gavin Moynihan (69), Gary Hurley (72) and even Dermot McElroy, who had a 73 despite a two shot penalty for playing a wrong ball.

And as McDowell and Hoey both fired three under 68s to share ninth spot on a packed leaderboard, Mcllroy confessed that he simply has to work harder on his wedge play if he’s not to miss the cut for the second year running .

After hitting just nine green and taking 30 putts in a lacklustre round that featured six bogeys, McIlroy said: “I drove the ball really, really well but I short-sided myself a couple of times on the front nine.

“I just a couple of loose shots with my irons and my wedges and I couldn't really get a putt to drop, either. 

“I was just pretty sloppy with the scoring clubs, and obviously I need to do a lot better with those tomorrow just to be here for the weekend.”

McIlroy didn’t want to blame not getting his clubs until Wednesday morning for his poor start to the tournament.

But he admitted that it didn’t help that he couldn’t practice properly until he got out in the Pro-Am.

After firing an amazing 62 alongside the amateurs, he simply could reproduce that kind of form when the gun went, dropping two shots in his first five holes.

A birdie at the 18th looked like it might spark a back nine charge but he bogeyed the second and third from nowhere, birdied the par-five fifth but then dropped back to back shot at the sixth and seventh before rescuing his round with a birdie at the last.

Reluctant to make excuses after jetting in from the US Open on Monday, he said: "There was a a little bit of jetlag for sure.  

“Not really being able to do much the Monday, Tuesday, because the clubs didn't arrive until yesterday, as well, was a little bit frustrating more than anything else. 

“But I did a really good practise session on the range last night after the ProAm and I was feeling good going out this morning.  Just couldn't really put it together.

“It's a course where if you're on and driving the ball well like I am, there's opportunities to score and make birdies.  No excuses for me off the tee or anything.  

“I put myself in good positions to make some birdies.  I just didn't do it.”

After missing the cut at Carton House last year, McIlroy is no in danger of missing the cut again and knows he needs a hot round today after finishing the day three shots outside the projected cut mark.

He groaned: “I just didn't take advantage of the good drives I was hitting and I was just very sloppy with my wedges and my short game.  

“If I can tidy that up a little bit for tomorrow, then at least hopefully be here for the weekend and see what I can do then.

“It's the fact that when you feel like you're playing well, should you really be capitalising on that and not throwing in scores like I threw in today.

“It is frustrating, and on the golf course, you just have to stay patient and try and make your birdies when you can.”

Leader Ilonen has already won in Ireland, capturing the 1999 West of Ireland Amateur Open at Enniscrone.

But he was pleased with his start as he made five birdies in his last seven holes.

Ilonen said: “It was a slow start really. The first sort of four or five holes I felt like I can't get anything going, but I stayed patient and then the birdies kept coming. In the end I managed to hit a couple of good putts which was nice.”

Graeme McDowell talks about his opening round at Fota Island. Picture: Fran Caffrey www.golffile.ie

After making birdies at the 15th and 16th, McDowell duffed his five-iron tee shot at the par-three 17th and came up 56 yards short of the green.

A bogey followed but he birdied the last for a 68 to match Hoey, who dropped just one shot in a four birdie round.

Still jet-lagged and tired after the US Open and lacking true course knowledge having opted to play a practice round for the Open at Hoylake rather than getting two practice rounds at Fota Island, he added: “I didn't play amazing and my body’s still catching up with me a tiny bit.  

“But I’ll have a nice sleep tonight and hopefully I'll feel a bit fresher in the morning.  I’m just trying to jockey for position and stay in contention for this weekend. 

“I feel like I'll get stronger and stronger as the week goes on.

"Like I said, maybe tried to do a little bit too much on Tuesday. Flew in, went to Hoylake, got here, had a few things going on. Maybe just didn't get enough sleep under the belt, and I like my sleep, let's put it that way.

"I'll get a nice sleep tonight and be ready to go tomorrow.  Like I say, not trying to make any excuses.  There's plenty of guys in the field coming back from Pinehurst, and you just have to get on with it."  

Michael Hoey cuts one down the 10th. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

Hoey holed two long bombs for birdie but they key to his score was the 20 footer he made for bogey at the eighth.

Gunning for a dream win despite not playing his best, Hoey said: "Hopefully the crowd can help me along the next few days and I’ll hole a few putts and enjoy it.  

“Obviously I won the Dunhill Links and that’s my biggest win. But this would be even bigger.”

Former winner Shane Lowry was frustrated to card a level par 71 after missing two gilt-edged chances at the last two holes.

Lowry said: “I think I was fairly robbed on the last for birdie.  One under would have been a decent way to start but level par is not bad when you’re out late and the greens were a bit bumpy.

“I’m looking forward to getting out in the morning on some fresh greens and shooting a good score.”

Just five of the 27-strong Irish brigade broke par with Peter Lawrie’s fine 69 leaving him tied for 22nd with Harrington and 19-year old amateur Gavin Moynihan from The Island.

Moynihan’s amateur team mate McElroy was frustrated with his 73 after incurring a two shot penalty and racking up a triple bogey seven at the first, his 10th hole.

Both McElroy, 21, and Scot Chris Doak played each other’s ball but while McElroy took seven, Doak made a 20 footer for bogey and a 69.

McElroy said: “We didn't realise until we got to the green and I told him I thought I’d played his ball. It’s really frustrating because I made three birdies in the last seven holes to shoot two over.

“Take the triple bogey off the card and it’s one under par round. Apart from the triple, I was really happy with how I played.”