DUBLIN (REUTERS) - US Masters champion Danny Willett conjured up eight birdies in a sparkling first-round 65 to lead the Irish Open by two strokes from Rory McIlroy on Thursday.
The British world number nine, who missed the cut in last week’s Players’ Championship on his first appearance since winning the year’s first major, dropped only one shot at the K-Club on the outskirts of Dublin.
Four-times major champion McIlroy, the world number three, birdied the 18th at his home Open to complete a round of 67, one shot ahead of young Briton Callum Shinkwin and South African Jaco van Zyl.
The 28-year-old Willett’s round of 65 was only one shot off the course record set by South African Charl Schwartzel in 2003.
“Things have been a bit mental but it’s just great to be back in Europe playing golf, being around the lads that I’ve obviously played golf with for the last eight years,” Willett told the European Tour website.
“We started off a little scrappy and then we just kept plodding along.” he added.
“I just seemed to get hot with the putter on the back nine and rolled a few in, and not too many mistakes.”