Get set for a wild ride at Lahinch this weekend as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open heads into today’s third round with the title race wide open and a host of contenders still in the frame.
While Thursday’s opening round gave us the feelgood story of veteran major champion Pádraig Harrington firing a course-record 63 in the Co Clare sunshine, this famous west-coast links bit back yesterday and left the tournament with a crowded leaderboard, 36 golfers within six shots of midway leader Zander Lombard of South Africa.
Harrington’s first-round heroics, his lowest round in 24 Irish Open appearances, had given the 47-year-old a one-stroke overnight lead from Lombard but that and so much more was washed away by morning rain and much more difficult conditions than had graced Lahinch the previous day.
While Harrington carded a four-over-par 73 for his second round to slip from seven under to four under at the halfway stage, Lombard improved from six under to nine under par to set the pace heading into the weekend.
To say Lombard, 24, is a surprise leader of this Irish Open is an understatement; though he collected his biggest European Tour pay cheque at Ballyliffin 12 months ago with a tie for sixth place, he last made it into the weekend’s play on the Tour in March and came into Lahinch on the back of six consecutive missed cuts.
“I went through a bit of a bad spell missing a few cuts by one and just sticking to the process of my team. It just came together at the right time, I suppose, and happy with the results so far,” Lombard said.
The South African will take a one-shot lead into today’s third round, playing the last group of the day alongside England’s Eddie Pepperell, who followed his opening five-under 65 with a 67. Behind them lies a big chasing pack with Abraham Ancer of Mexico, Englishman Lee Westwood, and Spain’s Jorge Campillo two off the lead on seven under, another six golfers on six under, and a further nine on five under, including leading Irishman Cormac Sharvin, who added a 69 to his opening 66.
Those at four under include a couple more Irishmen with contrasting emotions about their position. While Harrington was understandably rueing his bad day, fellow Olympian Seamus Power was breathing a sigh of relief having rescued his round with a very good back nine having faced a missed cut following a double bogey at Klondyke, the par-four fourth hole.
First to Harrington, who undeniably got the worst of the morning’s conditions, described by Pepperell as “horrible”, and was kicking himself for dropping four shots in the process during a painful front nine.
“It is a tough course,” he said. “They have slowed down the greens a bit, they have gone generous with the pin positions so they have made the course as easy as possible for us. So it is definitely a tough golf course.”
Power will subscribe to that after an equally torrid front nine on the afternoon side of the draw when the sun re-emerged but scoring did not come any easier. The Waterford man, with heavy support from fellow members at West Waterford Golf Club, bogeyed the tough par-four second and then double-bogeyed the fourth to slip to three over par, three shots the wrong side of the projected cut line.
On the back of three consecutive missed cuts on the PGA Tour, it looked like his sponsors’ invitation was going to waste but a delay at the par-three fifth as he waited for a ruling on a ball nestled up against the famous dune guarding the green gave Power the opportunity to regroup and he was more than grateful.
He managed to save par with a three and from that point there was no looking back, with seven birdies from the seventh, including four in a row between 10 and 13.
The 32-year-old’s satisfaction levels after signing for a 66 were, he said, “definitely high”. “It was a frustrating start because I had a decent chance on one, a bit of a bad lie on two, and just missed on three, and made a complete mess of four. It happened very quickly from where I thought I was in pretty good control of my game and all of a sudden I am way out of it.
“To turn it around mid-round is always a nice feeling in golf, it is one of those sports where you can get going down the wrong hole you can be hard to get yourself out of it. That is satisfying, you kind of get mad and have a little talking to yourself but it is golf, you have got to bounce back, you never know what’s going to happen so I was able to do that today.
“It is definitely up there, especially in the Irish Open in front of so many supporters. Confidence can be a fickle thing so if you get a little chance to build on, absolutely, this is going to be something I will remember for a while.
“Being that far outside the cut line and turn it around doesn’t happen that often.”
There was plenty of disappointment last night as the cut fell at one under par, sending home eight of Ireland’s 13-strong contingent, including Paul Dunne and Paul McBride on level par.
Yet Power lives to fight another day and will be in good company. There are a lot of golfers waking up this morning with the belief that today is the day they can make their move for Irish Open glory.