Emerald Isle a rain-dripped jewel for foreign raiders
Martin Kaymer

Martin Kaymer

Danny Willett and Rory McIlroy might be the star turns but the men chasing them sounded as happy about Ireland and the Irish as they did about their first round scores in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

South African Jaco Van Zyl made just one bogey in a four under 68 to share third spot with English rookie and Challenge Tour graduate Callum Shinkwin. 

But while he found the K Club’s Palmer Ryder Cup course a major test, he reckons the trip is well worth it for the scenery and the hospitality.

“Nice to wear my sunglasses for most of the round,” Van Zyl said. “I didn't quite expect that. We've been very lucky with the weather.

“It's a great golf course. It's a test from the first tee shot to the last putt, and you know, didn't hit it all that great today but still managed to get it under par.

“I just think 90 per cent of the golf here is literally dependent on the weather. Not much work to be done this afternoon, and we’ll see what Mother Nature has got intended for us tomorrow.’

Rain or shine, Van Zyl sounded happy just to be in Ireland, adding: “It’s just a very special place, green everywhere you look, and the people are very friendly. It's a warm place to come to, despite the weather. I just absolutely love it here.”

Shinkwin celebrates his 23rd birthday on Sunday and while he’d love nothing better than to do so with a maiden win, he’s simply enjoying life on tour with Irish caddie Dave McNeill, the man who helped Pádraig Harrington early in his career.

“It's nice to show people how well I can play and I feel like I've done it so far, but I wouldn't want to raise the bar too high at the moment,” said Shinkwin, whose cousin Miles Shinkwin is a light heavyweight professional boxer

“Dave makes me relax. I actually enjoy being out there. Whereas, before trying by myself, I didn't really enjoy myself. It's quite lonely. You're not really having much fun. I know it's my job, but you want to still enjoy it. And with him on the bag, I enjoy it, and so does he, as well, I think.”

As for boxing, he’s glad he didn’t keep up the sport and follow in his cousin’s footsteps. 

“I did when I was younger, and I've got a brain, so I moved off the sport.” he joked.

Pleased to be in the field and happy to see some big names on the leaderboard, he’s got more than enough on his plate getting around the course and dodging the irish weather

“Even with the big names, Willett and Westwood and McIlroy, as well, I’ve still got to play my own game and hit every shot one at a time,” he said.

Defending champion Soren Kjeldsen was thrilled to eagle the last alongside McIlroy for a 69 that left him tied for fifth with former winners Brett Rumford and Ross Fisher, and two time major winner Martin Kaymer.

The Dane was especially impressed with the course and thrilled to break 70 in blustery afternoon conditions.

“Rory hit 9-iron 115 on one hole and 185 on another hole,” Kjeldsen said. “That's pretty strong wind right there. It was great conditions to play in, lots of wind. The course was playing beautifully.”

Kaymer had the worst of the morning conditions but after going out in one over on the back nine, he came home in 31 thanks to a two at the third, an eagle three at the fourth and another birdie at the ninth.

Pleased to get rewarded after missing many chances early on, he was asked him approach to wet conditions and said: “Close your eyes, get your rain gear on and just try to hang in there.”

His 69 came courtesy of a pep talk from Paul McGinley, as he told Newstalk's Nathan Murphy:

"I was playing well, I just didn't see the results and actually Paul McGinley came up to me two days ago and said 'Martin, this is usually your time. Two years go when you played for my team, you won the Players [Championship] and the US Open and usually that's your summer' and I can only hope it triggers something now,"

As for Fisher, winner of the title at Killarney in 2010, he made seven birdies and still only shot 69 after adding bogeys at the first and fifth and a double bogey seven at the par-five 16th that reminded him of Darren Clarke;s heroics in the Ryder Cup.

“I think I was the only one here this morning on the range in a short sleeved shirt and everyone was kind of taking the mick out of me,” he said. I felt okay. Put my sleeves on to keep me a little bit warmer.

“I've always enjoyed coming here. It’s a different course to where I won in Killarney but it was exciting to come here, because I think I've played here back in 2006, 2007, but on the other golf course, and obviously having seen The Ryder Cup around the course, I was quite looking forward to coming here.

“Even today, despite the weather, there was a lot of people following. And I felt very appreciative of Jo and my two kids and mother- and father-in-law walking around, braving the weather. To walk around most of 18 holes, they did very well.”