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4 September 2008

Timely 63 gives McIlroy the lead in the Omega European Masters


Northern Irish teenager Rory McIlroy shot the lowest round of his professional career to lead Omega European Masters by three strokes after an eight under par 63 in Switzerland.

His stunning round on his first visit to Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club may have been one outside the course record but put the youngster in pole position to claim the Omega watch on offer for the low round of the week.


"About time," said the 19 year old, who goes into the second round two ahead of Argentina's Julio Zapata and three clear of Welsh pair Garry Houston and Kyron Sullivan.


"Golf's such a fickle game. I could go and play better than that and shoot level par."


The brilliant round of 63 beat by three the 19 year old's previous best on The European Tour and put him top of a European Tour leaderboard for the first time since he turned professional almost a year ago - but for him to take it in his stride was not entirely surprising.


In his amateur days McIlroy shot an incredible 61 at Royal Portrush.


It was also three outside the lowest ever seen at Crans-sur-Sierre, perched 4,500 feet up in the Alps.


Back in 1971 Italian Baldovino Dassu became the first Tour player to return a 60 and in 1992 Jamie Spence equalled that to win the title from a record ten behind on the last day.


After that, however, Seve Ballesteros changed the greens and made the course tougher. The official record for the new lay-out is the 62 of Eduardo Romero eight years ago.


McIlroy burst onto the circuit in sensational style last year. After being leading amateur at The Open Championship and then earning a Walker Cup cap he finished third in his second pro event and then fourth just a week later.


That had many people wondering if he could become the youngest player in Ryder Cup history, but he has not made a cut since failing to qualify for The Open.


"I've done a lot of work in the last few weeks - I've had a lot of time on my hands at weekends!" he added.


"I feel like I've been hitting it really well, but the results have not shown it.


"The pro-am was my first ever round here and I just love how far the ball goes. It's a fun course.


"As a kid I always played by feel - there were no yardage books at Holywood - and here whatever it looks like you just go for it.


"There are a lot of elevation changes as well and it's whatever fits your eye."


Four birdies in the last five holes of the back nine enabled McIlroy to turn in 31, he started the outward half with another and then had three more in a row from the fifth.


The trio in second place all have a chance now to secure their cards for next season.


Houston, who saved his card when he was fourth in the event three years ago, lies 132nd, Sullivan 159th and Zapata 180th. Only the leading 115 are exempt for 2009.

Miguel Angel Jiménez, the only member of The European Ryder Cup Team taking part, reached six under with three to play, but bogeyed them all and had to sign for a three under 68.


Houston almost pulled off an amazing "underground" hole-in-one.


After grabbing birdies at the first two holes his tee shot to the 192 yard third landed just short of the cup and the ground was so soft it almost went through the turf and in.


Instead it came out of the pitch mark and he only parred.


"Back in 2005 I was a rookie, so people didn't expect me to hang onto the position," he said. "Now there is my expectation."


Compatriot Bradley Dredge has finished first and third the last two years and Sullivan said: "It must be the mountain air."


Zapata said: “I love to play on Tour but have not had much fun. I have not played well up to now. I need to be patient and today I am very happy.”


Elsewhere, Brett Rumford, last year’s winner in a sudden death play-off, is four under par alongside Peter Lawrie, Emanuele Canonica, Ross McGowan, Gary Orr, François Delamontagne, Alejandro Cañizares and Mikko Ilonen.



Text courtesy of the European Tour




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