Ilonen shoots record 64 to grab lead in Irish Open
CORK, Ireland: Finland’s Mikko Ilonen ignored the script to easily outshine his more-fancied local rivals, including double major winning Rory McIlroy, on the opening day of the Irish Open on Thursday.
Illonen, 34, celebrated his 300th European Tour event setting a new course record of a seven-under par 64 in superb scoring conditions on the Fota Island course in Cork.
In contrast, McIlroy, the highest world ranked player in the field at No 6, had just three birdies and double the number of bogeys in a three-over-par 74 to trail 10 shots behind the triple Tour-winning Finn.
Illonen capped his round birding five of his closing seven holes and taking just 26 putts, to end near lunch leading by three shots from the duo of Italy’s Edoardo Molinari and England’s Matthew Baldwin.
“A couple of weeks ago in Sweden I was playing really well and I finished 32nd, and it’s still really a mystery how I finished 32nd that week, because I was actually hitting my best shots of the year there,” said Illonen.
“I felt really calm with the putter and today really it’s just still there but we still have a long way to go.”
And while Illonen sets his sights on a fourth Tour victory he also is looking to break into the world’s top-50 for a first time in his career and be assured of contesting August’s WGC — Bridgestone Invitational.
He is currently ranked 63rd in the world, one place more than a career high of 62nd in December 2007.
“In these summer tournaments up until The Open my goal is to get into the Top?50 and that gets me into the Bridgestone that I can play in the States,” he said.
“I am exempt into The Open while 63 in the world will get me into the PGA, so I have that, but it would be nice to play two more over in the States once you’re there.”
McIlroy, however, paid a price for disruptions to his preparation including losing his clubs and struggling to hit just eight of the 14 fairways and taking 30 putts in a round of 74.
“I’ve still got a little bit of jet-lag for sure coming from the US Open,” he said.
“I wasn’t able to do much on Monday or Tuesday because the clubs didn’t arrive until yesterday so that was a little bit frustrating more than anything else.
“But I did a really good practice session on the range last night after the Pro-Am and was feeling good going out this morning.
“However I just couldn’t really put it together as I was very sloppy with the scoring clubs today, wedges, the short game, the putting. All that was just a little off.
“So hopefully that is my poor round for the week and I can do a better job of that tomorrow and obviously I’ll need something in the low 60s just to be here on the weekend.”
And McIlroy revealed he will get his first look at Royal Liverpool and next month’s British Open host venue when he will play two practice rounds on the course on the weekend before the July 10th commencing Scottish Open.