Ilonen grabs Irish Open lead

European Tour

Finland’s Mikko Ilonen shot a course record 64 to take a two-shot lead after the first round of the Irish Open.

The world number 63 fired eight birdies and one bogey in his round, with five of those birdies coming in his last seven holes.

That gave him a two-stroke cushion over Germany’s Marcel Siem and Swedish pair Robert Karlsson and Magnus Carlsson.

Ilonen nearly let a couple of poor shots on the 10th get the better of him, but was able to put it behind and move on – much to his advantage.

“I made a mess of our 10th hole, the first hole,” he said. “I hit a big drive, was in the middle of the fairway with a sand wedge and I walk off with a five.

“Luckily I didn’t get too angry with it and I just get going and kept hitting greens and kept giving myself chances. Luckily in the end I made a few putts.”

It was a welcome return near the top of the leaderboard for Karlsson, who was European number one in 2008 but suffered from blurred vision the following year and lost his touch.

“It was nice, I’m very, very happy,” said Karlsson, who also had a top-10 finish in his native Sweden recently. “I worked quite hard when I’ve been at home since the Nordea Masters, so it’s been nice to keep it going.

“I’ve done a bit of work with my coach and things are coming together quite nicely. The long game was very, very good today.”

The likes of Padraig Harrington and defending champion Paul Casey, meanwhile, lie on two under, while Graeme McDowell is one better after an opening 68.

Rory McIlroy opened with a disappointing 74 and already finds himself 10 shots behind the leader.

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