Rory McIlroy hits the front as threat of thunder stops Irish Open

Rory McIlroy hits the front as threat of thunder stops Irish Open

Tournament host Rory McIlroy edged closer to winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open for the first time as Danny Willett surprisingly stumbled at The K Club just before the threat of lightning suspended play.

McIlroy had missed the cut in his home event for the last three years, but the world number three added a second round of 70 to his opening 67 to head into the third round just a shot off the lead shared by Masters champion Willett and Marc Warren.

And despite failing to engage the extra gear he felt he needed to claim a first win of the season, the four-time major winner found himself top of the leaderboard heading into the back nine.

After Willett had missed from three feet for par on the second, McIlroy's two-putt birdie on the par-five fourth gave him the outright lead for the first time, although Willett soon birdied the same hole to get back on level terms.

However, Willett then failed to get up and down from right of the sixth green and drove into the water on the seventh to card back-to-back bogeys, leaving McIlroy two shots clear on eight under par.

Warren had bogeyed the first after driving into the trees and dropped four more shots in a row from the fifth to fall back to three under par alongside England's Matthew Southgate, who was in the penultimate group with McIlroy.

Southgate, who regained his European Tour card at the qualifying school last November just months after receiving treatment for testicular cancer, had made a brilliant start with birdies on the first and fourth.

But the world number 794 then dropped four shots in the next four holes to reach the turn in 37 and drop back into the chasing pack.

Willett had just teed off on the 10th when the siren sounded to suspend play due to the threat of lightning in the area, with McIlroy up ahead facing a chip across the green for an eagle.

Play eventually resumed after a delay of two hours and twenty minutes, but McIlroy wasted no time in making his second birdie of the day on the 10th to extend his lead to three shots.

Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello had been six under par with two holes to play only to find water off the tee on the 17th to run up a double bogey before the suspension.

And the world number 30, who beat McIlroy in the third-fourth place play-off in the WGC-Dell Match Play in March, then bogeyed the last on the resumption to joint France's Gregory Bourdy and Romain Wattel in the clubhouse lead on three under.

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