Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett get off to fast start at Irish Open

Rory McIlroy pictured at the third tee
Rory McIlroy pictured at the third tee

It may be premature but the prospect of Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett battling it out for the Irish Open title at The K Club must have the powers that be at the European Tour purring.

Masters champion Willett carded a superb opening round 65 (-7) to McIlroy's 67 (-5) on a day when the afternoon starters made the most of markedly better conditions.

Tournament host McIlroy birdied six holes in total, his only blemish coming at the par three 14th when he three-putted from close range.

“I tried to really focus on being 100 per cent ready whenever the gun went off there on the first tee and I feel like I’ve done that pretty well for the most part. I hit the ball well from tee-to-green,” said McIlroy.

“I took a few of my chances. I basically did everything I wanted to there and I feel like five-under is a fair reflection of how I played today.

“It’s a great day one. Hopefully it entices people to come out and watch the golf over the next three days.

“Having Danny here is a huge help, and him playing like he did today, and me playing like I did, it would be great if we could have a battle over the weekend and get the crowds to flock in. It would be one that I'd be looking forward to.”

If anything, Willett was even better than McIlroy and had clearly worked the kinks out of his system that caused him to miss the cut at The Players Championship last week.

“We started off a little scrappy and then we just kept plodding along and tried not to make too many mistakes,” said Willett.

“We saw that there had been a few scores in and around two or three under par which was a really good score.

“I just seemed to get hot with the putter on the back nine, rolled a few in and didn't make any mistakes.

“Overall we did a good job today and just kind of tried to play every shot as it came and tried to enjoy playing with the guys and with the fans out there.”

Earlier in the day, former Irish Open champion Ross Fisher and two-time major champion Martin Kaymer compiled excellent rounds of three under par 69s in wet, cold conditions.

Fisher carded fired seven birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey to card a three-under-par 69, a score matched by Ryder Cup hero Kaymer thanks to a superb finish.

Englishman Fisher, whose last win came in the Tshwane Open in 2014, said: “I’m delighted. I played some really good golf apart from finding the water on the 16th for my double bogey, but I bounced back nicely and to shoot three under in the conditions we had this morning, I’m really, really pleased.

“I always enjoy coming here and although it’s a different course from where I won, I was excited to come back because I’d played the other course and after seeing the Ryder Cup in 2006 I was looking forward to playing.”

Home favourite Shane Lowry, who won the title in 2009 while still an amateur, carded five birdies and four bogeys to finish on one under par, the same mark as Graeme McDowell.

“I kind of made five from nowhere there on the par three third. I hit a fairly innocuous looking tee shot and an okay chip, and rifled it five feet by and missed the one back and thought, uh-oh,” said Graeme.

“I hung in well after that. I hit some really nice shots, and the greens were pretty tough to putt on. But I think they will be a little bit more smooth in the morning and I’m looking forward to getting back out there. I think two or three solid rounds and one decent one will really compete here, and there's a lot of golf to play.

“Overall on a tricky afternoon, I think we probably had the best part of the draw. Looks like the boys got a little wet this morning and obviously it was blustery this afternoon. I think we certainly enjoyed the best part of the day today.”

Unheralded Englishman Callum Shinkwin and South African Jaco Van Zyl share third place, three shots behind the leader Willett.

“Yeah, I’ve been playing nicely. I haven’t played much the first half of the year. Just really looking forward to get stuck into it and get nice momentum going,” said Van Zyl.

“It’s a test from the first tee shot to the last putt. I didn’t hit it all that great but still managed to get it under par.”