There will be no Darren Clarke or Padraig Harrington for the expected huge crowds to cheer on in the last two rounds of the Irish Open in Killarney, but Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell plan to fill the void.
McIlroy, not backing down in the slightest in his Twitter row with former European tour player Jay Townsend, grabbed three late birdies for a second-round 68 today.
Fellow Ulsterman McDowell, the 22-year-old’s predecessor as US Open champion, went two better than that to put both of them on four under par at halfway.
But that is six behind German Marcel Siem, who late in the day eagled the long 16th and sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the next to move one ahead of Indian Jeev Milkha Singh and Dane Soren Hansen.
For Clarke and Harrington, the end had come by lunchtime.
In his first start since his dream Open Championship victory at Sandwich, 42-year-old Clarke dropped four shots in the last eight holes for a 74 and a one-over aggregate.
Triple major winner Harrington had little hope after double-bogeying the short sixth and, with a 72, crashed out on three over.
That is now back-to-back missed cuts for the Dubliner before he heads back to America and, already down to 64th in the world, he is likely to fall even further now.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s only a game,” stated Harrington. “There’s no doubt that changes are required – for the sake of it rather than anything else.
“I’m doing everything I would have done when I was winning majors, it’s just something fresh is needed. You need a bit of spark somewhere.
“Even on my worst days I’m not too bad. It’s not like I’m shooting 77-78 sort of thing, but momentum is an important thing and I don’t have it at the moment.
“I’m not thinking of changing personnel. I’ve got to change something in myself, attitude or something along the lines of that.
“I’m not taking time off – I like playing golf.”
Clarke admitted his mental energy levels were down after a bout of ’flu followed his post-Open celebrations.
“I just couldn’t get anything going,” he commented. “A weekend off is not what I wanted. It probably won’t do me any harm, albeit I would much prefer to be here to play.
“A couple of things went my way over at Sandwich and here bounces went the other way. Payback time I suppose.
“I didn’t have much time off after The Open, but that’s no excuse for shooting 74.”
Siem has an extra incentive for wanting to win this weekend. Since partnering Bernhard Langer to World Cup success five years ago he has not earned the right to play in the event again, but he has the chance now to be with world number three Martin Kaymer in China later this year.
“There’s two rounds to go – it’s only half-time,” he said after his 66. “I just want to stay calm and see what happens.” His one previous victory was in South Africa seven seasons ago.
Singh led by two after an opening 63 that matched the lowest round of his career and, given he hit a wild opening drive into the stones beside Lough Leane, he settled for adding a 70.
But that allowed ex-Ryder Cup man Hansen to catch him with a 66, while defending champion Ross Fisher and fellow Englishmen Simon Dyson and Simon Wakefield are among those on seven under and promising Irish amateur Paul Cutler stands six under after a 67.
For Liverpool’s Nick Dougherty the misery just goes on, however. With a 74 for seven over he missed his 19th successive cut going back to last November.