Graeme McDowell celebrated confirmation of the Open Championship’s return to his home course of Royal Portrush by carding an impressive opening round at the US Open on Thursday.
McDowell fired an eagle, one birdie and one bogey to shoot an opening 68 at Pinehurst to sit at the top end of the leaderboard on Thursday night.
Speaking about the Open Championship returning to Portrush in 2019 – it was last staged there in 1951 - McDowell said: “That’s extremely exciting.
“I’ve been kind of hesitant to comment because I really didn’t want to take anything away from the official announcement (the R&A are holding a press conference in Portrush on Monday).
“I’m very proud of where I grew up. I’m very proud of the tradition and history there and to bring an Open Championship back to Northern Ireland is very special. It speaks volumes about how far the country has come.
“It’s going to be a very special thing for Northern Ireland and Ireland in general. I just hope I’m exempt and playing well.
“It’s been a dream of mine as a kid. I’ve spent many an hour out there as a kid and dreaming of playing major championships.
“To have a major championship come to Portrush, (especially) the Open Championship is special stuff.
“It’s the result of a lot of gentle ribbing in the direction of Mr Dawson (R&A chief executive Peter Dawson) the last four or five years from myself and (Rory) McIlroy and (Darren) Clarke. Nice to see the fruits of our labour, I suppose.”
Meanwhile, Holywood’s Rory McIlroy sank an impressive birdie at the last hole to card an opening round of 71.