NOBODY could accuse Indian golfer Jeev Milkha Singh of having had a dull year so far – and eventful was certainly the way to describe his opening 66 in the Irish Open yesterday.
One of three Asian players invited to the Masters at Augusta last month, something which Colin Montgomerie had harsh words to say about, Singh shares the lead at Adare Manor with Australian left-hander Richard Green. In the space of 30 minutes the 36-year-old went from having a near-albatross to tangling with a bush with one hand in his pocket and salvaging par with a 40-foot putt.
It was the sort of rescue act Montgomerie and defending champion Padraig Harrington were unable to produce.
The former, whose 88th position on the world rankings represents his lowest standing in the game since 1990, managed only a 75 after running up a double-bogey 7 on the 528-yard seventh. Harrington, meanwhile, returned a 72 that included a bogey 6 on the long 18th after he hooked his drive into the River Maigue. Darren Clarke also shot 72,
and was far from happy with the punishing set-up.
"The course was ridiculously difficult this afternoon," said the Ulsterman. "It's a fantastic design and then you have new tees and all of a sudden we are hitting 3-irons to flags that are completely inaccessible."
Former Volvo Masters champion Singh hit a 3-wood to a foot on the seventh for his eagle, but found the bushes behind the green with his pitch to the 631-yard ninth.
"The first thing was to get a ref to make sure I didn't break any rules," he said. "You can't touch anything and that's why I put my hand in my pocket and took it out when I had to grip the club. My backswing was about a foot and a half and I was more worried about just hitting the ball. It could have gone anywhere." He was happy enough with getting it on the green and making the 40-footer was just icing on the cake.
Alastair Forsyth and Gary Orr emerged as the leading Scots after rounds of 71 left them five shots behind the joint leaders.
Stephen Gallacher is a further two shots adrift on one over par while Scott Drummond, David Drysdale, Alan McLean and Steven O'Hara carded two-over 74s. Peter Whiteford sits at three over, Paul Lawrie (76) is a further shot back and Craig Lee and Marc Warren are at four and five over respectively.