McIlroy upbeat ahead of third round

Padraig Harrington ended a 25-year wait for a home winner of the Irish Open last year - and Rory McIlroy is hopeful the overseas contingent can be repelled again at Adare Manor this weekend.

Padraig Harrington ended a 25-year wait for a home winner of the Irish Open last year - and Rory McIlroy is hopeful the overseas contingent can be repelled again at Adare Manor this weekend.

France's Michael Lorenzo-Vera, a European Tour rookie, was the surprise overnight leader and the three closest to him going into today's third round were German Marcel Siem, Australian Richard Green and Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal.

Four of Ireland's finest are in the running too for a first prize of more than €415,000.

Darren Clarke, who returned to winning ways in China last month, resumed only three behind on three under par, Paul McGinley and 19-year-old is McIlroy stood two under with Harrington one further back.

"With all the Irish guys doing well the last few weeks (Graeme McDowell, Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie also lifted Tour titles) it just adds to the atmosphere and excitement of the tournament," McIlroy said.

"It's fantastic and I'm really enjoying it. I couldn't have hoped to play much better, I suppose, and hopefully I can make it an even better week these last couple of days."

McIlroy, leading amateur at last year's Open and then third and fourth within a month of turning professional in September, has not had a top-10 finish this season.

He has taken to the demanding 7,453-yard lay-out however, and added: "I wouldn't say it's a monster - it's nowhere near 'US Open tough'.

"You have to drive it well and put it on the fairways to give yourself chances to hit it close. If you don't you're going to struggle.

"I think I play better when it's tough courses. I concentrate and really do try and work hard to get a score out of it."

McIlroy would be the second youngest winner in Tour history if he triumphs, whereas Clarke, McGinley and Harrington are all old hands now.

Clarke, who 40 in August, turned pro the year after McIlroy was born and is closing in on 400 Tour events.

More than anything he wanted to see an improvement in his putting over the last 36 holes.

"I'm really struggling for a solid strike and I'm trying too many different things out here, messing about," he commented after his second round 69.

Clarke described the set-up as "ridiculously difficult" on Thursday, but was not anticipating any let-up over the weekend.

"Would I expect to see it? No. Would I like to see it? Yes," he added.

McGinley, 41, has already passed 400 Tour starts and has echoed Clarke's feelings, but 36-year-old Harrington won at five under last year and given the relative inexperience of those at the top of the leaderboard there is still a chance the same score could be good enough.

Lorenzo-Vera reckons Adare Manor is the hardest course he has ever played, while Siem may have won the World Cup with Bernhard Langer two years ago, but last November he was back at the qualifying school.

Larrazabal has already been to The Masters at Augusta, but that was as caddie for his brother Alejandro six years ago, and has yet to record a top-10 finish on the circuit.

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