Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy fully justified their pre-tournament favourite status on the opening day of the Omega Mission Hills World Cup with a sensational fourball score of 14 under par 58 over the Olazábal Course at Mission Hills Golf Club.
That remarkable effort that included 12 birdies and an eagle saw Team Ireland soar into a three-stroke lead over Argentina, with Japan a further stroke back on ten under par in third position.
Italy, Canada, Korea and defending champions Sweden share fourth place after opening scores of eight under 64, while host nation China produced a seven under 65 to share eighth place with South Africa.
But day one of the 55th World Cup belonged to Ireland, who made a near-perfect start to their bid to be crowned World Champions.
“I think 58 is the best score I've ever had,” smiled McIlroy, with McDowell in instant agreement.
McIlroy continued: “We got off to a great start today and we birdied the holes that we knew we had to on the front nine. We had a chance of two birdies most holes and most of the time we took one of them. It was great team play today, and we never really put each other under pressure. I think that showed in the way the scores went.”
McDowell was quick to point out that Ireland will not get carried away with their sensational start, with today’s foursome format bringing a totally different challenge.
“Today is a good start but that's all it is and we are very aware of that. Obviously foursomes is a tougher format and we have to get our strategy right.”
The Argentinean duo of Rafa Echenique and Tano Goya were delighted with their opening round of 61 that saw them occupy second place.
“I feel very confident today playing with Rafa,” said Goya. “He putted really good at the end of the round and we were pretty solid today. The times he was in trouble, I was there and the times I was in trouble, he was there. That's the good thing about the fourball – but it's important for one to make a really good hole. I think tomorrow is a different spirit in foursomes. It will be my first time playing with Rafa in foursomes so I'm going to enjoy it as much as I can.”
Interviewed after the round, Goya also talked about golf’s inclusion in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and spoke with enthusiasm about the fact that the Games would be contested on his home continent. “It’s very important for South America to have the Olympic Games. It will be great for Argentina because it’s so close.” OMEGA, the World Cup’s title sponsor, is the long-time official timekeeper of the Olympic Games and as their contract with the International Olympic Committee continues through 2020, they will be serving in the role when golf is first played as an Olympic sport.
The Molinari brothers continued their fine form, to move Italy into third place behind Japan.
“I think he probably played better than me today,” admitted Francesco. “He holed more putts but it's a long tournament and we both need to be at our best to try and compete. But it's the first time that we are in a good position after the first round, so it's a nice change compared to the last couple of years.
“Playing with your brother is definitely an advantage because obviously we know each other really well, and we know each other's game really well. So we know what to expect and we know the strength and weaknesses of each other. Maybe even, you know, with your brother, you have much more confidence than with anybody else, so it makes it a bit easier.”
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