England’s Ross Fisher missed a golden chance to score the European Tour’s first-ever 59 in the 3 Irish Open at Killarney today.
After six successive birdies in a front nine 29 and then four more in a row from the 11th the 29-year-old needed a further two over the closing stretch - which included a reachable par five.
But Fisher missed from six feet at the 15th, could only par the 519-yard next and closed with two more pars for a 10-under-par 61.
What became important for the Volvo World Match Play champion at that point was that on 12 under par at halfway – and with the lowest round of his Tour career under his belt – he led the tournament by three shots from Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
Fisher had also re-ignited his challenge for a Ryder Cup debut in October. He lies 13th on the points table, but could leap to sixth with victory on Sunday.
Overnight leader David Howell, on the other hand, double-bogeyed the first and 10th as he slipped back from seven under to three under with a 75.
“I played rubbish – as bad as I was good yesterday,” he said. “I got off to the worst start and just swung the club poorly.
“I just didn’t know where it was going to go and it was a case of hanging on, which I did.
“It could have been worse, to be honest, and I’ve got two nice days now to crack on and finish high up.”
Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose – five under, four under and three over yesterday – were among the later starters, but Padraig Harrington returned an eventful 67 and was in joint fourth on seven under.
In a bush off the tee at the 17th the three-time major champion, without a win for nearly two years, hacked out, went over the green and chipped in for par before sinking a 20-footer on the last for his fifth birdie.
Playing partner and US Open champion Graeme McDowell followed him in from 17 feet there – and that could prove vital as it gave him a level par total that might just make the cut.
A round of 72 was not what McDowell had planned for his 31st birthday, though, and Rose was certainly hoping for much better than that as he turned 30 on the same day.
Fisher said: “Not until I got onto the 14th did I think ’If I knock this in I’ve got a chance’, so I was a bit annoyed when I missed the putt on 15 and after the 16th I thought I’ve got to do it the hard way.
“It didn’t happen, but I’ll take 61. It’s been coming for a while – that’s as good as I’ve putted since the Match Play and that’s all I’ve been struggling with.
“It’s been a frustrating year. The Ryder Cup was one of the goals I set myself and I want to be on that team. I want Monty to be looking at me and if I still need a pick at the end then hopefully I will be one of the fortunate ones.”
3 Irish Open Leaderboard
12 under - Ross Fisher (after 36 holes)
8 under – Gonzalo Fdez-Castano (Spa) (35)
Brett Rumford (Aus) (35)
7 under – Anders Hansen (Den) (36)
Padraig Harrington (36)
Seung-yul Noh (Kor) (36)
Michael Hoey (35)
Francesco Molinari (Ita) (21)
6 under – Chris Wood (35)
Rory McIlroy (22)
5 under – Damien McGrane (36)
Alastair Forsyth (30)
David Dixon (28)
Darren Clarke (22)
Paul Lawrie (20)
Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (Fra) (18)
Anton Haig (Rsa) (18)
Marcel Siem (Ger) (18)
4 under – Richard Green (Aus) (22)
Paul McGinley (22)