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Rory McIlroy stalls as Rickie Fowler gets a US Open flyer

Rickie Fowler acknowledges the crowd after his fine opening 65
Brian Keogh at Erin Hills, Wisconsin

RORY McIlroy was having little joy on his return to competitive action at the US Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, despite an eagle two on his second hole.

That proved to be the only positive on the Holywood man's scorecard as bogeys at holes three, eight, 11 and 13 and a double bogey on 15 saw him drop back to four-over par after 15 holes, 11 shots behind clubhouse leader Rickie Fowler, who had earlier carded a bogey free seven-under par 65.

Shane Lowry was also a late starter but he was finding things a little bit easier than McIlroy. Starting on the back nine, he went to the turn in two-under thanks to birdies at the 11th and 15th, and after 14 holes he was yet to drop a shot on his card.

Graeme McDowell was looking on the bright side as his US Open chances appeared to go down in flames.

The Portrush ace shot a four-over par 76 as Greystones’ Paul Dunne posted a three-over 75 in perfect conditions at the rolling Wisconsin course.

But after hearing that a commercial blimp that was overflying the course had gone down in flames with the pilot safe but hospitalised with suspected burns, he was still counting his blessings.

“I saw it in the air but did not know what happened and it was amazing to learn that no one was hurt,” McDowell said.

“So, there you go I shot four over and others are jumping out of blimp to save their lives.”

McDowell’s putter was an ally early on and he did well to turn in two-over 38 after three bogeys and a solitary birdie at the par-three 13th

But as the wind got up, he failed to get up and down for par at the third before dropping another shot at the short ninth, where he flew into the back bunker.

“I did not play well and as simple as that”, McDowell said.

“It does not matter what golf course you are on because if you do not play well you are going to have problems.

“I got off to a bad start with the driver and then I kind of started to get the ball in play a bit more but then started to feel uncomfortable on the greens.”

Eleven shots behind Fowler, McDowell added: “It is clear by the score Rickie shot that there is a score out there and I hit enough good shots out there to give me something to grab onto tomorrow.”

Debutant Dunne confessed that his driving was below par as he opened with a 75 to finish alongside world No1 Dustin Johnson on three-over par.

His putter kept him near the top of the leaderboard at one-under through six holes before the deep fescue rough took its toll on the 24-year old Wicklow man.

“I just didn’t drive the ball that well, for the first maybe 11 holes,” Dunne said after mixing a lone birdie at the second with four bogeys in his last 12 holes.

“I holed a few nice putts at the start to keep myself in it and then made three bogeys from bad drives and another one from just nowhere really.

“I gave myself a lot of chances for the last seven holes – I had six good chances – and missed them all.”

Dunne holed a five-footer for a par at the first after pushing his drive into deep rough, a 12-footer for birdie at the second and an eight-footer at the third before brilliantly pitching dead at the fourth to save par after a pushed drive forced him to lay up.

He made another 10-footer for par at the

252-yard sixth but finally dropped a shot at the 604-yard seventh where he was bunkered off the tee and tugged his third 20 yards left of the green into deep rough.

After back-to-back bogeys off further poor tee shots at the 10th and 11th, he was disappointed not to take chances on the next five greens before missing a five-footer for par at the 17th after overshooting the green.

Another bunkered tee shot at the par-five 18th, where he felt he could reach the green in two with an iron, meant he had to settle for a closing par.

“The one bogey I made on 17, I hit a good shot in from 192 eight-iron airmailed the green and missed one for par,” Dunne said.

“I just missed putts coming in, could have finished level par really. The driver was the problem for the first 11 and the putter then for the last seven.”

Dunne will likely need a sub-par round today to make the cut but he sounded confident, adding: “You don’t have to chase out there to shoot three under, the chances kind of come at you.’’

Early first round scores

65 Rickie Fowler

67 Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Brian Harman

69 Jamie Lovemark

70 Charley Hoffman, Brandt Snedeker

71 Davis Love IV, Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Kevin Dougherty

72 Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn), Hideto Tanihara (Jpn)

73 Bud Cauley, Alex Noren (Swe), Michael Putnam, David Lingmerth (Swe), Meen-whee Kim (Kor), Aaron Rai (Eng), Jordan Niebrugge

74 Haotong Li (Chn), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Talor Gooch, Ted Potter, Jr., Andres Romero (Arg), Bradley Dredge (Wal)

75 Paul Dunne (Irl), Brice Garnett, Chez Reavie

76 Matt Wallace (Eng), Jason Dufner, Shugo Imahira (Jpn), Jon Rahm (Spa), Jeunghun Wang (Kor), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Thomas Pieters (Bel)

77 Daniel Chopra (Swe), Stewart Hagestad (a), Gene Sauers

78 JT Poston, Scott Harvey (a)

79 Ryan Palmer

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