Rory McIlroy had to take a back seat as golden oldie Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell led the Irish challenge at the British Open.

Clarke and McDowell were the best placed Irishman after day one as they finished on two under par, three off the pace set by Darren’s good friend Thomas Bjorn and amateur Thomas Lewis, the joint leaders on five under.

The two Ulstermen came home in 68 shots, three better than McIlroy on his first competitive outing since Congressional.

McDowell recovered from a nightmare double bogey start to regain his composure on the back nine and finish two under.

Former champion Padraig Harrington was a further two shots behind McIlroy and well down the field on three over par.

Clarke put his change in fortunes down to a quick chat earlier this week with renowned golf psychologist Bob Rotella.



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“I’ve been lucky this week as I’ve seen an old friend of mine, Bob Rotella,” said Clarke after his 68.

“I was able to catch up with him because my ball striking and tee-to-green stuff has been very good, very solid but today the putter was very good.

“We got very lucky with the weather this afternoon. The guys this morning had it tough but there’s hardly anything going on out there at all.

“It’s just a real tough, stern test. You’ve got to stay patient this week, which has not always been one of my strong points but this week that’s what the Open and links golf is all about.”

Clarke also credited a recent move back to his native Northern Ireland as one of the reasons behind his revival.

“I moved back home to Portrush last summer, so I’m playing all my golf at Royal Portrush now, that’s where I’m practicing playing,” added the former Ryder Cup hero.

“After having lived in London for 13 years I wasn’t playing as much links golf as I would have liked but now that I’m back there so I feel very comfortable with it.”

IRISH SCORES (Leaders at Five Under)

Two Under - Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell
One Over – Rory McIlroy
Three Over – Padraig Harrington