A 58 is not the worst way to put a golfing disappointment in the past, as Rory McIlroy was to confirm here yesterday. The 20-year-old played superbly alongside Graeme McDowell to put Ireland firmly in charge after the first round of the Omega Mission Hills World Cup.
The close friends combined with devastating effect to shoot 14-under in the fourballs to open up a three-shot lead over Argentina. After they won three out of four matches in September as Great Britain and Ireland claimed the Vivendi Trophy, the Ryder Cup captain, Colin Montgomerie, certainly has a firm contender for a pairing at Celtic Manor next year.
Each contributed seven shots to the outrageous total, which was just one shot shy of the World Cup fourballs record, ahead of this morning's testing alternate shot foursomes. The eagle three from the world No 10 McIlroy at the heavily bunkered par-five 15th was the highlight as the young Ulsterman reaped the rewards for his big-hitting style.
"It's nice to go out and prove I wasn't affected by last week. I got over it by the time I woke up on Monday morning to be honest," said the World Cup debutant, who was denied the Order of Merit crown in Dubai on Sunday by the brilliance of Lee Westwood. "Looking back I've had a great season – almost like a breakthrough year. This is the start of a new stage. This was a week I obviously wanted to do well because I'm playing with Graeme. It would be great to win together – it would be awesome."
McDowell concurred. "Obviously it was a good start, but that's all it is and we are very aware of that," he said. "Better-ball is quite an important part of the format. You've got to play well in better-ball, but obviously foursomes is a tougher format."
Rafa Echenique and Tano Goya lead the chasing pack at 11-under. Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher carded a disappointing six-under 66 for England despite promises of an aggressive start and sit well down the leaderboard alongside Wales' Stephen Dodd and Jamie Donaldson in a group eight adrift. However, Poulter and Fisher only managed a three-under first round 12 months ago before charging up the leaderboard over the weekend to claim sixth, and confidence in the England camp remains high. "Hopefully foursomes golf can be our speciality again this year," Fisher said.
Surprisingly, Spain prop up the leaderboard alongside Scotland, Chile and Pakistan at three-under. The world No 8, Sergio Garcia, failed to fire in his partnership with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.