Worksop’s Mark Foster follows a meeting with Tutu with round of six six

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WORKSOP’S Mark Foster started the Irish Open with a 66 at Royal Portrush yesterday after receiving a blessing from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Foster carded seven birdies to a single bogey and lies one shot off the lead held by India’s Jeev Milkha Singh and France’s Gregory Bourdy.

“He (Tutu) was sat behind me on the flight over and I had my photograph taken with him,” said Foster, chasing only his second European Tour victory in more than 300 starts.

“There were some others on the plane who were more excited about Ronan Keating being there, but I told him it was an honour to meet him.

“You don’t get a chance to meet someone like that very often and after shaking his hand he gave me God’s blessing.” Perhaps just as important were some words from his wife Sophie before he headed for the airport.

“I had a massive negative not qualifying for The Open on Monday (he actually pulled out despite an opening 70 in the 36-hole event) and was really down,” he said.

“But she told me I’d played well on Sunday in Germany, it’s only Monday, so let’s go again Tuesday. I did a good job of forgetting it and I’m really pleased with this.

“The beginning of the year was awful, I’ve progressively got better, but I’ve got to keep improving for what I’m after.

“It was just amazing out there. I got a six o’clock car to the course and, I kid you not, there were people queuing to get in - even though the rain was coming sideways.

Foster raced into an early wind with seven birdies in the first 13 holes, but chipping his third shot into a bunker on the 391-yard 15th - known as “Purgatory” - cost him a bogey.

It might have been worse. His recovery from the sand clattered into the flag and stopped close rather than running a long way past.

Perhaps Archbishop Tutu’s words were already paying dividends.