Fisher falls just short of history

England's Ross Fisher erupted into life again with a 61 in Killarney today - and he needed nobody to tell him it could have been an historic 59.

One of Europe's great talents has been somewhat dormant since winning the Volvo World Match Play in Spain last November.

But his bid for the Ryder Cup debut he just missed last time was reignited by a remarkable charge into a three-stroke halfway lead over Italian Francesco Molinari at the 3 Irish Open.

Six successive birdies for a front-nine 29, then four more in a row from the 11th left Fisher needing just two from the last four to become the European Tour's first player to break 60.

There have been four 59s on the US Tour, the most recent of them by Paul Goydos earlier this month, while Ryo Ishikawa shot 58 in Japan in May and only a few days ago a 17-year-old amateur scored 57 in the Alabama Boys State Junior Championship.

But, like so many before him, Fisher had to settle for the lowest round of his Tour career and not the record.

He missed from six feet at the 15th, only parred the long 16th as well after driving into sand and failed with birdie attempts on the last two.

"I was standing on the 14th green and it (59) did sort of enter my mind," said the 29-year-old, who could leap from 13th to sixth in the cup standings by winning on Sunday.

"I was quite strong mentally to try and block it out of my mind. I just tried to give myself four chances and I did that, but it wasn't meant to be."

As for making it into Colin Montgomerie's side he added: "This is the start of three big weeks, so I just need to go out and play how I know I can - and fingers crossed."

Molinari is another with his sights on a first cap against the Americans at Celtic Manor in October - and he is much closer to it than Fisher.

The younger brother of Scottish Open champion Edoardo, another cup contender, stands seventh in the current standings and would be virtually there if he triumphs this weekend.

He also covered the outward half in 29 before signing for a 66, a closing birdie opening up a two-shot gap on the best of the rest.

"When I started Ross had already finished and I thought 12 under is a big task," said the player also coached by Denis Pugh. "Five under, all in all, is a good round."

It included one shot played left-handed from close to a tree on the 17th - and coincidentally Padraig Harrington did the same from a bush on the same hole as he shot 67 to join, amongst others, Rory McIlroy on seven-under.

After a closing 20-footer for birdie 2007 winner Harrington, without a Tour title for almost two years, said: "I putted like I did in my amateur days.

"It's a lot easier to play the game when you struggle a little bit and recover.

"You walk to the next tee feeling really good about yourself whereas the guy who hits two nice shots in and two-putts feels pretty bad."

McIlroy, round in 68, has had 14 birdies already, but also seven bogeys.

"I'll have to really try and limit those for the weekend," said the 21-year-old world number eight. "I feel as I'm playing well enough to challenge."

Darren Clarke's 70 put him six under, the same mark as his fellow Ryder Cup vice-captain Paul McGinley, but their stablemate Ross McGowan's bad run continued.

In the ninth and last automatic cup place with a month of the race to go, McGowan missed a fourth successive cut when a 75 dropped him to six-over.

As for birthday boys Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose, they both mounted comebacks to finish on level par, which appeared virtually certain to make the cut with nothing to spare.

On the day he turned 30, Rose improved six shots on his opening 74, while McDowell, exactly a year older, holed from nearly 18 feet on the last for a 72.

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