Mixed fortunes for home contingent

WHILE Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley were battling gamely to overtake the Australians at the top of the Irish Open leaderboard at Baltray yesterday, the other Irish seven qualifiers were meeting with mixed fortunes.

It was a very decent weekend for Graeme McDowell who atoned for Thursday's distinctly moderate 73 with rounds of 69, 70 and 70 for a six under par total of 282, a share of 11th place and a cheque for €30,336. He is now 13th in the European Tour order of merit with €800,968.

McDowell talks a very positive game and claims to be "really looking forward" to the next two weeks which see him take in the Scandinavian Masters and Dutch Open when most of the bigger guns are taking a breather as they prepare for the US PGA Championship.

Trouble is, his mode of transport to Malmo is something of a back breaker, incorporating a drive to Rosslare last night, a ferry to Pembroke and on to home in Cardiff before catching a 6am flight to Copenhagen. Then it's on to a company day at Kunsangen, the club where he won the Scandinavian Masters in his rookie year of 2002.

Then and only then does he reach the tournament venue.

McDowell was one of those who fell foul of the par three 17th which yesterday was playing a full two iron into the wind. He also dropped a couple early on, but he made five birdies.

"I struck the ball well and felt I didn't get too many breaks. It really was a story of what might have been and I didn't give myself the best chance of winning by taking 73 in the best weather of the week on Thursday."

Gary Murphy improved his order of merit position when he closed with a round of 70 for a three under par total of 285. He picked up €18,050 and stands 82nd in the money list with €191,481 and is virtually assured of his card for 2005.

He was four under par for the day after seven holes, having birdied the first two and then picked up shots at the 6th and 7th as well.

"Bogeys at the 8th and 9th completely knocked the wind out of my sails," he admitted. "I had lots of chances on the road home but couldn't make a putt. I was nicely placed at the 18th but my little pitch failed to bite, the ball ran seven feet past and I had no putt. No matter how many times you play that green, the break is always more than you think. I'm just not holing enough putts."

Like Murphy, Peter Lawrie also plays in the next two tournaments with his game going in the right direction. Yesterday's 71 for two under earned him a cheque for €14,582 and with €166,518 now in the bank for his season's activities, he is also edging closer to keeping his card.

For 68 holes, it was a great championship for David Higgins but three bogeys in the last four left a sour taste. He had to settle for a round of 74 and a one under par total of 287. He picked up a cheque for €11,020.

Always at home in the wind, he would have hoped for better things and certainly a birdie at the first augured well. That was cancelled out by a six at the long 3rd but he tamed the extremely difficult 9th for a second birdie and an outward 36. However, dropped shots at the 10th with its treacherous sucker pin position right behind the bunker on the left and the 11th cost him dearly.

To the Waterville man's great credit, he hit back with gains at the 12th and 14th before that late run of bogeys spoiled what had looked to be a very promising scenario.

Damien McGrane completed a very solid four days' work with a level par 72 to come home on one under par four. He finished with a delightful sand recovery at the 18th to three feet and he duly sank the birdie putt. The Wexford professional also finished one under and stands 95th in the order of merit with €146,676.

Just as Higgins has few opportunities to play the circuit, so, too, is John Dwyer obliged to ply his trade both as club professional at Ashbourne and confine himself mostly to the domestic Irish PGA region circuit. A brother of former crack jockey Mark, John also made the cut in the recent Smurfit European Open and certainly looked the part this weekend. Unfortunately, he also bogeyed three of the last four and settled for 74 and a level par aggregate of 288. He did enough, though, to warrant his decision to try for his Tour card at the end of the season. He won €8,360.

Biggest disappointment of all was Darren Clarke whose barren period continues apace. Having followed solid scores of 70 and 71 with a dismal 78 on Saturday, his heart for battle evaporated and he limped home in 73 yesterday to total four over par. His reward - a mere €4,180 for tying for 64th place!

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