THOMASTOWN, Ireland (AP) — Australian golfer Lucas Herbert shot 8-under 64 in the first round to lead the Irish Open by one stroke Thursday as Rory McIlroy was forced to battle down the stretch to finish on even par on his return to the European Tour.
The nearest challenger to Herbert, whose only victory on the tour came at the Dubai Desert Classic last year, was Johannes Veerman, a 350th-ranked American who made seven birdies and didn’t drop a shot playing in the last group of the day.
McIlroy got up and down from a greenside bunker for par at No. 18 to shoot 72, having also saved par on the 17th after a wayward drive. The world No. 10 was 2 over after eight holes at Mount Juliet, a course in the south of Ireland, in his first appearance on the European Tour since Abu Dhabi in January and only his second since November 2019.
McIlroy is playing the Irish Open, where he was a winner in 2016, as well as next week’s Scottish Open before competing at the British Open at Royal St. George’s the following week.