Ryan Fox carded a 5-under 67 to take the first round lead at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation – the fourth Rolex Series event of the season – with Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett among those a shot back.
The New Zealander, who showed his class on links courses last year with consecutive fourth-placed finishes at Royal Portstewart and Dundonald Links, carded six birdies and one bogey to sit one ahead of a chasing pack which includes three-time Major winner Harrington, 2016 Masters Champion Willett and 23-time European Tour winner Westwood.
The long hitting Kiwi opted to use his driver around Ballyliffin Golf Club, an unusual tactic for links golf.
“I hit driver a lot, and there are a lot of patches of rough. I drove it nicely. I think I probably only hit five or six fairways, but missed them in the right places and hit a lot of good drives that just ran through fairways so I gave myself a lot of chances,” said Fox.
“We took the same theory with this event last year with the rough down and it worked. Links golf can be kind of funny sometimes. You get penalised for just missing a fairway bunker or just missing it in the long stuff off the fairway but quite often where the crowds walk, it's quite nice.
“I guess I just take it on now and sometimes a bit easier hacking a lob-wedge out of the rough than it is a seven-iron out of the fairways with some of the contours and the firmness.”
Off to a flying start, Fox has an eye on the prize on offer at the Irish Open, his first European Tour victory and a start in The Open.
“I'd love to be in The Open and Carnoustie is one of the best golf courses in the world I think and I'd love the chance to play there in an Open,” added Fox.
“As good a start as I can have, really, and hopefully three more rounds and if I can sneak in that top-5 like last year and get an Open spot, that would be great.”
Harrington, who holds the record for the most top-ten finishes in Dubai Duty Free Irish Open history with eight, chipped in for eagle on the par-five 17th before making three birdies in four holes over the back nine to sign for a 68.
Joining Harrington on four under par after 18 holes are a French duo of Adrien Saddier and Matthieu Pavon, and an English trio Robert Rock, Ashley Chesters and Westwood, while tournament host Rory McIlroy sits three off the lead after carding a two under par first round of 70 at Ballyliffin Golf Club.
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