Published Thursday, 28 June 2012
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the 14th hole (© Getty)
The sell-out competition - Northern Ireland's first since 1953 - got underway on Thursday amid wet and windy conditions on the North Coast.
While the trio of NI champions attracted the biggest followings, the pace was set on the first day by India's Jeev Milkha Singh and France's Gregory Bourdy
They opened with seven-under-par 65s to take a joint one shot lead.
Padraig Harrington was the best of the Irish on -5, while McIlroy finished on -2 with Michael Hoey, and McDowell and Clarke back on -1.
Rory, who holds the course record at Royal Portrush with a 61 he played when he was 16, three-putted two of his last three holes for a disappointing 70.
The former world number one lamented a "sloppy" finish - but was glad to have his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki for support.
Clarke felt better about his 71 as he had been two over after eight, while USPGA champion Keegan Bradley had to settle for a 73 in his first-ever competitive round in Europe.
'It was brilliant'
Darren Clarke praised the warm reception local fans gave the stars of the golfing world.
'Step in the right direction'
Rory McIlroy admits he was nervous teeing off but described his performance in round one as a step in the right direction.
Let's wrap it up
OK folks let's get the leaders and the best of the Irish done and dusted - 11 hours of blogging is enough for today!
-7 Jeev Milkha Singh (Ind)
-6 Mark Foster (Eng), Andrew Marshall (Eng), Michael Jonzon (Swe), Matthew Zions (SA) and Edouard Dubois (Fra - after 14)
Best of the Irish is Padraig Harrington on -5, followed by Mark O'Sullivan on -4 and Paul McGinley on -3.
McIlroy finished on -2 as did Simon Thornton and Michael Hoey, with McDowell and Clarke back on -1.
I'm off for a well-earned beer but logon again tomorrow from bright and early for more of the same.
After a quiet couple of years the 45-year-old Dub is back playing great golf this past few weeks.
He holes a curler at 17 and could yet match Harrington as the best Irishman of the day if he birdies the last.
Rory McIlroy is not a happy boy after missing a four footer for par on the last in what he called "a sloppy finish".
Two bogeys in the last three holes and a failure to birdie the par five 17th turned what could have been a very good five under into a less than stellar two under. Work to be done but with his talent he is by no means too far back.
McIlroy said: "As the day went on the greens got a bit slower and coming from the greens I've been putting on (in the States) it's a big change."
McIlroy gets a bit of a flier on his second into the last and is left with a testing two putt if he is to finish three under.
Darren finishes one under but is not too downbeat despite a few missed chances coming in.
The rain break came at the right time for him - a three under back nine after a two over front nine.
Edouard Dubois, a 23-year-old who thus far has only made waves on the Challenge tour is six under after ten while his more heralded countryman Gregory Bourdy is less of a surprise package at four under after his first nine.
No ifs or putts
A bad 30 seconds for the local lads with McIlroy missing a four footer on 16 for par and Clarke a three footer on 17 for birdie.
Clarke stays at one under and Rory's back to three under. Harrington's five under may yet be the best of the Irish.
Rich vein of form
If you'd had a bet on who the leading American would be after day one most would have piled on Keegan Bradley with links wildcard John Daly getting a few backers too.
Step forward Rich Beem, the 41-year-old World No185, and the unexpected 2002 USPGA champ. Sterling work for his three under 69.