European Tour

Illonen leads in Scotland as McIlroy struggles

Mikko Ilonen (AFP)
Mikko Ilonen (AFP)

Irvine - Finland's Mikko Ilonen produced his lowest score in two years to set a new tournament course record as Rory McIlroy continued to struggle on day one of the Scottish Open at Dundonald Links on Thursday.

Ilonen, 37, birdied three holes in succession mid round in a bogey-free seven-under-par 65. That gave him a two-stroke lead in overcast and then rainy conditions on the Scottish west coast.

"A 65 is my round of the season," he said.

"I'm not going to say it's been the whole season pretty bad but it's been certainly a good part of it has been pretty slow out there.

"So, it's nice to get something going and make a few birdies and no mistakes on the card."

In fact, the effort was the five-time Tour winning Finn's lowest score since a 64 on day one of the 2015 KLM Open.

Rickie Fowler was one of six players to share second place on five under par after shooting 67.

The American, contesting the event for a first occasion since winning in 2015 at Gullane, was joined by his compatriot Paul Peterson, Australia's Andrew Dodt, the English duo of Ian Poulter and Callum Shinkwin and Padraig Harrington in giving chase to Illonen.

Harrington's round was a boost for him before he heads to the British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he won the Claret Jug in 2008.

Harrington pulled off the par save of the day at the par four 16th, where the Glasgow to Prestwick railway line runs down the entire right side of the hole.

It was raining at the time and, fearing he may send his tee shot right, he actually pulled it left and just managed to find the ball within the search time limit.

Harrington took a penalty drop, found the green with his third shot and holed a 35-yard par putt.

"We were all looking in a 40-yard square area and it was getting near desperation stakes when someone finally found it but it was sitting so badly I had to take a penalty drop," he said.

"I then found the green and would have run to the next tee with a five but to take a four was a minor miracle."

There was no such joy for McIlroy, however.

He had crashed early to be four over par after just four holes en route to an eventual two-over-par 74, which followed his failure to break par in the first two rounds before he missed the cut a week ago at the Irish Open.

McIlroy did not speak to the waiting media but Fowler, his playing partner for the first two days of the $7 million event, offered some comforting words.

"Rory didn't make the swings he wanted to today, but he did a great job of hanging in there and kept fighting," said Fowler.

"I know we didn't necessarily talk about the game out there but I know he's in a great spot with his personal life.

"He's always been one of the best guys out here and it has been fun to build that relationship.

"He had a great week last week with his Foundation being involved with the Irish Open.

"So, he'll be fine. He's one of the best players in the world."

Poulter highlighted his 67 with a two-foot tap-in eagle on his fifth hole, just nine days after qualifying for Royal Birkdale where he celebrated a best Open finish of second in 2008.

Leading first-round scores from the Scottish Open at Dundonald Links Golf Club, Irvine on Thursday (par 72; GBR/IRL unless stated):

65 - Mikko Ilonen (FIN)

67 - Rickie Fowler (USA), Callum Shinkwin, Ian Poulter, Andrew Dodt (AUS), Paul Peterson (USA), Padraig Harrington

68 - Benjamin Hebert (FRA), Paul Dunne, Magnus A. Carlsson (SWE), Stephen Gallacher, Richie Ramsay, Matt Kuchar (USA)

69 - Romain Langasque (FRA), Kristoffer Broberg (SWE), Richard Bland, Matthieu Pavon (FRA), Robert Karlsson (SWE), Lucas Bjerregaard (DEN), Thomas Aiken (RSA), Ross Fisher, Peter Hanson (SWE), Adam Scott (AUS), Renato Patore (ITA)

Selected others

70 - Alex Noren (SWE)

71 - Jason Dufner (USA)

72 - Henrik Stenson (SWE), Stewart Cink (USA)

74 - Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed (USA), Martin Kaymer (GER)

75 - Graeme McDowell

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