Cormac Sharvin will carry home hopes into the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open final round tomorrow, but it was Robert Rock’s stunning third round of 60 that wowed the sell-out crowds at Lahinch.
Rock, 42, took control of this €6.2 million European Tour Rolex Series event today as he joined a select group of players to shoot 60 in competitive play. It is the lowest round on the Tour this season and moved the Englishman to 13 under par after 54 holes, good enough for a one-shot lead over Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, who shot a third-round, seven-under 63 and another Englishman, Eddie Pepperell, who finished with three consecutive birdies for a four-under 66.
Rock’s 10-under effort, scored in persistent rain on the Atlantic coast, even had a bogey amongst 11 birdies and 10 years after losing a famous play-off to then-amateur Shane Lowry at Baltray in the 2009 Irish Open, he came inches away from carding a 59. The eagle putt that would have delivered that rolled past the hole but Rock came back for a birdie and his career-low round.
Despite the rain, the third round drew a crowd of 20,097, the first Irish Open sold-out day since Royal Portrush in 2012 and they were treated to some excellent scoring.
"I've always wanted to shoot a low score like this, I've seen others do it over the years and wondered if I'd get the chance, I've been a pro for 20 years and I hadn't done it,” Rock said.
"When you get to 42 you wonder if that's missed you by, you're just not that sort of player. Luckily for me, it was just a load of putts today that built up my score and some good shots, but mostly it was the putting.
"I played nicely and putting amazingly on the back nine. That really adds up the score before you know it, it was nice to have the opportunity to shoot 59 but joining the 60 club is pretty cool.
"I'm delighted, surprised and relieved. I haven't been playing well this year. But this was fun."
Halfway leader Zander Lombard of South Africa sits alone in fourth place at 11 under following a 68 with Austrian Bernd Wiesberger and England’s Andy Sullivan in a tie for fifth a shot further back.
Sharvin has a share of seventh place thanks to his 66 and sits on nine under alongside Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, who shot the same score. It keeps the Co. Down golfer on track for one of three spots available tomorrow for The Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
Rock, Wiesberger and Sharvin currently occupy the positions of the first three golfers not already exempt for the major but the Ardglass man will need another good round tomorrow to secure his spot in the first Open to be played in Northern Ireland since Portrush staged it in 1951.
“I think it’s going to cross my mind now and again but I’ve just been trying my best not to let anything like that affect the way I go about my business this week,” Sharvin said. “I’m going to stick to my process and take one shot at a time.”
Pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm also got among the low scoring today with a 64 that moved him to eight under in a five-way tie for ninth, while Waterford’s Robin Dawson, a housemate of Sharvin’s this week and often on the Challenge Tour, shot the lowest round of his short professional career, his bogey-free six-under 64 moving him to seven under in a tie for 13th, six shots off Rock’s lead.
Another Waterford golfer had to grind, Seamus Power getting off to a terrible start to his third round and finishing with a three-over 73 to fall to one under, the same round score and position Padraig Harrington will start his final round from tomorrow. The three-time major champion, who shot his lowest-ever Irish Open round, a 63, to hold the first-round lead did close his third round on a high note.
“It's nice to finish with a birdie, but yeah, I didn't hole too many putts,” Harrington said. “It's hard, it's a tough enough day, you have to create momentum. You have to hole a few putts to get going, get ahead of the game, sort of thing. It was a bit of a tough day like that.
“I left a few shots out there early on, and then just made for a long, hard day.”
One shot better than Harrington and Power on two under par sits Shane Lowry who shot a level-par 70.