Paul Dunne and Padraig Harrington lead diminished home challenge at Irish Open

Wicklow’s Paul Dunne sits five shots off the lead, and Padraig Harrington six, after the opening two rounds of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, writes Brendan O'Brien.

But the local challenge has been blunted badly by the failures of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell to make the cut in front of 18,789 spectators on the Co. Derry course.

The loss of such star names from a tournament being held in their own back yards - McDowell hails from four miles up the road in Portrush - is not what organisers would have wanted given the pull the pair exert on potential punters.

That said, there has been a lot of quality golf played and the weather has played ball.

Benjamin Hebert of France and America’s Daniel Im share the lead on thirteen-under after adding 67s to the 64s they recorded on Thursday and the stardust of Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Rose, among others, lies sprinkled about the summit.

It makes for an intriguing weekend.

Paul Dunne makes his way onto the 16th green during Day 2 of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Golf Championship. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Dunne is leading Irishman at the halfway point after carding a 69 that was looking like it would reach well into the seventies for the day by the 18th - his ninth - before a run of five birdies on the front nine took the Greystones man to eight-under par for the tournament.

Harrington was on eight-under himself until dropping a shot at the par-four 16th and a missed putt for a birdie on the last left something of a disappointing taste in the mouth after recording five unblemished birdies from the fifth through to the 14th.

“Six shots is a lot to make up,” said Harrington of the weekend. “I like where my game is at. I need to continue to play the same way I played the first two days, just get a bit of momentum and a few breaks in there and convert those 68s, 69s into 65s.”

McIlroy had long bowed out by the time the day’s last groupings reached the recorder’s hut. Astonishingly, it is the fourth time in five years that he has fallen early from a tournament hosted by his own foundation.

The exception came last year when he won at the K Club.

Padraig Harrington on the 11th hole. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

A one-over second round 73, added to an opening effort of 72, was never going to be enough to secure the defending champion a weekend pass on a course where conditions were far more benign than might have been expected.

McIlroy, Rahm and Matsuyama started out at 8.20am just when the worst of the weather kicked in but the Holywood man reached the sixth hole, his 15th, at two-under par long after the rain had ceased and in need of a birdie or two to make the cut.

He went the other way instead, signing for a bogey and a double bogey in his last four holes. “I’m really disappointed,” he said afterwards. “The last two times the Irish Open has been in Northern Ireland I’m not playing at the weekend. It’s obviously not where I want to be.”

It’s a disappointment that makes next week’s Scottish Open on the Dundonald Links in Ayrshire all the more important for the world number four as he struggles for form - not least on the greens - ahead of The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale a week later.

“Every tournament is important to me coming up in this summer stretch. I haven’t played a lot and every time I go and play I need to make the most of it. Unfortunately the last three outings since coming back from (a rib) injury haven’t quite been that way.

“I just need to play a few more rounds and play a few more tournaments. I’m confident it will come together but I’m just trying to stay as patient as possible at the minute.”

In all, only five of the 17 Irishmen in yesterday’s field survived the cut-off point which came in at four-under par. Joining Dunne and Harrington in round three will be Gavin Moynihan (-6), Shane Lowry (-5) and Michael Hoey (-4).

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