Irish Open: Mixed emotions for Rahm and McDowell at Ballyliffin

Jon Rahm and Graeme McDowell were among the early starters in the first round at Ballyliffin
Jon Rahm and Graeme McDowell were among the early starters in the first round at Ballyliffin
2018 Irish Open
Venue: Ballyliffin GC, Co Donegal Dates: 5-8 July
Coverage: Click here for details on daily BBC One NI and BBC Radio Ulster programmes from 4 July. Updates, reports and features on the BBC Sport website.

Graeme McDowell quietly seethes after another bogey infects his card as Jon Rahm opts for emotional release by slamming his sand wedge into the Ballyliffin turf following a duffed pitch into a greenside bunker.

Two very different approaches to golfing adversity are on show on Ballyliffin's 18th green - their ninth hole of the day - on the opening morning of the Irish Open.

Earlier, a tee marker at the short 14th takes a hit from Rahm's seven iron after the Spaniard finds a nasty spot left of target. No damage done to the tee box but an inevitable bogey follows for the short-sided defending champion.

But worse is to come for the Basque native as his mishap on 18 leads to a double bogey which is followed by two more shots going at the first after another errant tee shot.

Suddenly, Rahm is three over and the only damage limitation in the remainder of the round is a birdie at the long fourth as he needs to hole an eight-foot par putt at the last to sign for a two-over-par 74.

Every misjudged yardage or misdirected shot leads to animation from Rahm although we'll not go down the cliché route of attributing it to Latin temperament.

His compatriot and playing partner Rafa Cabrera-Bello, himself one of the tournament favourites, is impassive throughout despite firing a disappointing opening 76.

"I'm not going to change the way I am," said Rahm on Wednesday, when he was asked whether he was making efforts to curb his volatile temperament.

And why should he? Rahm's approach to golf has got him to fifth in the world rankings and while there are regular explosions, he seems to have the knack of quickly regrouping for the next shot.

As Rahm becomes ever more animated, G Mac goes into grind mode and it pays off as he recovers from two over after 11 to card three late birdies which means a 71.

It's an impressive, battling effort from the former world number four, who won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 but is now ranked 175th and is not qualified for the Open at Carnoustie in two weeks.

A strong finish left Graeme McDowell under par as he started his bid for a first Irish Open success
A strong finish left Graeme McDowell under par as he started his bid for a first Irish Open success

McDowell said on Wednesday that he is convinced "one good result" will see the return of his confidence and also "show my [young] kids I am still a great player".

"In the first nine holes, with the grass and rough still wet (from overnight rain), I didn't drive it very well and was kind of out of position and had to scramble from there," says the 38-year-old Portrush man after Thursday's round.

"My ball-striking improved as the day went on. It was one of those days that could have got away and I was happy to keep it under control and post something sort of half decent."

As New Zealander Ryan Fox's 67 left him as the early clubhouse leader, with a 12 to 15 mile an hour wind enough to make conditions tricky on the tight driving course, McDowell admitted he may have to revise his assessment on Wednesday that a tournament record 25-under-par could be the winning total come Sunday night.

"I really felt building up to today that the scoring was going to be really low but as they start to tuck these pins away, this course is firm, and I can start to see the difficulty level."

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Harrington and McDowell reflect on their first rounds at Ballyliffin

After a bogey at the second hole, his 11th, left him on two over, McDowell's card was turned around by an impressive second shot from rough which resulted in a two-putt birdie at the long fourth.

A precise tee-shot at the par-three fifth to eight feet did not result in a birdie but a delightful flop shot yielded another gain at the next before his precise approach at the eighth was also exploited.

That meant a sum total of six birdies which surprised McDowell when he was informed of the figure after his round - although he was somewhat frustrated by missing another 10-foot chance at the last.

"Did I make six today? I didn't realise that. I made enough mistakes but thankfully the mistakes were only bogeys because last week in France, they were doubles."