Harrington heroics bring pot to the boil

With apologies to overnight leader Gregory Bourdy, this year’s Irish Open got the shot in the arm it needed when Pádraig Harrington birdied the 17th hole at Royal Portrush yesterday evening.

Frenchman Bourdy may lead this tournament at 12 under par after 36 holes, holding a one-shot advantage over England’s Mark Foster, but it is the figure of Ireland’s three-time major winner who looms largest on the leaderboard this morning heading into the third round.

Harrington lies two strokes behind Bourdy in a three-way tie for third place with Italy’s Lorenzo Gagli and England’s Paul Waring, who shot the round of the day, a seven-under-par 65.

Harrington’s was not too shabby either, his second consecutive 67 of the week a self-decribed “comfortable” round in the squally conditions, compiled with just one bogey and six birdies, the last of which came at the intimidating par-five 17th.

Yet the fact that Harrington should characterise his round in such humdrum fashion should send a warning to his fellow contenders that the Dubliner is ready to continue his recent return to form and make a serious play for the title he won in 2007 at Adare Manor.

“Today was nicely within me,” Harrington said, adding later: “I did nothing out of the ordinary.

“I feel quite nice, 10 under par, going into the weekend. I know a lot of golf is to be played here. This is a golf course that it’s easier to be the chaser on that it is to be holding onto a lead.

“Plenty of guys in the pack here, seven under, eight under par, will be capable of shooting six under, seven under tomorrow.”

As Harrington alluded to, being two shots off the lead is not a bad position and he would not be surprised to go into weekend as tournament favourite.

“Maybe that’s the position I’m in now. I’m sure Gregory Bourdy at 12 under par doesn’t feel like that but I’m sure if you went down to the bookies there would be a lot of expectations on me being two shots behind.”

Michael Hoey is five shots back but still in the hunt following a 67 that brought the Dunhill Links champion of last November to seven under for the tournament. Having won that event at St Andrews, as well as this year’s Trophée Hassan II in Morocco, Hoey knows the conditions on the Antrim coast this weekend will very much determine what constitutes a score good enough to earn the Irish Open title.

“Two 67s would win if it’s not gusty. Two 70s could be close if its gusty,” Hoey said.

“It just makes a big difference if it is gusty.”

Rory McIlroy is aiming a little lower after moving himself into something of a springboard position at five under par alongside compatriots Paul McGinley and hometown favourite Graeme McDowell.

McIlroy shot a 69 yesterday and believes he has shaken off the recent slump in form that saw him miss a series of cuts including at his US Open title defence.

“I’m hitting a lot of greens,” the world number two said. “If I can hit as many greens and just take a few more chances for birdies I can turn a 69 into a 65 very quickly. I’ve made up ground like that before but I know I’ll need two really good days to catch up.”

A further shot back lies a quartet of Irishmen who will need to go even lower if they are to mount a serious challenge. Shane Lowry (68), Simon Thornton (70), Mark O’Sullivan (72) and Open champion Darren Clarke (69) are all on four under, although Clarke, who missed the US Open through injury, struck a realistic tone regarding his own chances.

“I’m quite a way back but we’ll see. Just happy to be playing and see ow we go,” Clarke said.

Also into the weekend are Damien McGrane and Mark Murphy, who eagled his final hole, the par-five ninth, to survive the cut by a stroke at two under for the tournament.

Among those homegrown players not so fortunate was British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar, the Portrush native whose heroics at Troon last weekend appear to have caught up with the 22-year-old yesterday as he slumped to a second-round 78 to finish on five over.

If fatigue outweighed local knowledge for Dunbar, halfway leader Bourdy certainly seems to have benefited from the latter. The Frenchman, without a top-10 finish all season, let alone a victory, looked totally at ease yesterday as he backed up an opening 65 that had given him a share of the first-round lead alongside Jeev Milkha Singh with a second-round 67 that included an eagle at the par-five second.

His liking for Royal Portrush appears to stem from a practice round this week with Darren Clarke.

“He knows the course very well so on every shot he gave me an advice, so it’s great,” Bourdy said. “Not many players will do that so I asked a few times. And in the evening I saw him one more time to know a few more things.”

Maybe a Bourdy victory would count as a home win as well.

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