GOLF: Irish drink to Heggarty ace

THE MOST popular man at the Murphy's Irish Open yesterday was Jimmy Heggarty. The Irishman, who aced the 166-yard eighth hole with a six-iron, made the first hole-in-one of the tournament, the signal for each of the 9,500 spectators to receive a pint of the sponsor's product.

Usually, the prize for such a feat is on offer to the pro. At least Heggarty received the grateful thanks of one and all. Peter Baker, who later aced the second, got nothing for his trouble.

Branding is everything at sporting events, which is why the tee-markers at Druids Glen resemble a black pint glass with a creamy top. Not, perhaps, what a recovering alcoholic needs to see on every tee. "I just think of them as chocolate milk shakes," said John Daly.

The trick worked as Daly scored a 69, two under par, and enjoyed what he described as one of "my best putting rounds of the year". The American only dropped one stroke, at the ninth, his last hole, and his was comfortably the best round of his group.

Pity Paul McGinley. There has not been a home winner of the Irish Open for 17 years and it will certainly not be Darren Clarke, as the leading Irish player has decided to skip the event because he does not like the course. McGinley would have been one of those who the locals turn their attention towards had he not been sandwiched in a group that included Daly and Seve Ballesteros.

At 127th in the world, McGinley was by far the highest ranked player in the threesome but probably the least experienced at coping with all the distractions. It showed as he slipped to a 79, which included an eight at the 13th.

A notorious hole, it is narrow, doglegs to the right, has a stream and a rockface on the right, rough and bushes to the left and a pond in front of the green. Ironically, while McGinley was finding most of the trouble, his two playing partners parred the hole, although Daly needed a good recovery for his third to three feet after a poor drive.

Having improved 14 strokes on his previous round - a closing effort of 83 at the US Open - Daly revealed his last victory at the '95 Open was the last time he had played with Ballesteros. "Maybe that's a good omen," he said.

Daly's appraisal of the Spaniard's game was also interesting. "Seve's short game is still phenomenal," he said. "But I see him picking up the club on the take-away a lot more quickly than he used to. His swing is still as beautiful as it's ever been but he hits a lot of shots left or right and it's the same fault I have when I hit it really bad."

Had Daly mentioned this to Ballesteros? "What can you say to a legend? I hope it reads it in the papers. I am scared to tell him."

Another American, Craig Hainline, who was fifth on both his appearances in Ireland last year, held the lead at six under after a 65. Two weeks ago, his father, Pete, suffered a heart attack and Hainline spent eight days with him in hospital in Kansas.

"My attitude has changed a lot since this happened," Hainline said. "My dad was so close to death, you kind of think golf's just a game. Yes, you take it seriously, but it is not nearly as important as life."

Colin Montgomerie, winner here for two of the past three years, salvaged a 68 with some impressive putting on the back nine, where two of his five birdies came from over 30 feet. But, going to the turn, Monty twice drove into a bush and only getting up and down from 180 yards at the sixth stopped him going three over.

Having got away with a bad day, Montgomerie decided to remedy his problems immediately. "It's six o'clock and I'm going to the range," he said. "I never do this. But I'm in a position where I can win and I want to get it right."