Northern Ireland’s “Big Three” were battling through heavy rain to try to stay in touch with the leaders of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush today.
World number two Rory McIlroy and Open champion Darren Clarke stood six under after seven and 13 holes of their third rounds respectively, while Graeme McDowell stood four under after following a double bogey at the difficult seventh with a birdie on the next.
France’s Gregory Bourdy, grateful for all the help Clarke gave him in a practice round on Tuesday, led at halfway on 12 under, one ahead of England’s Mark Foster.
Only two back were Dubliner Padraig Harrington, winner of the title in 2007, Italian Lorenzo Gagli and Foster’s compatriot Paul Waring, playing his first event for over a year after wrist surgery.
Clarke, having made his first halfway cut of the year on his return from a month off resting a groin strain, began brilliantly with a birdie on the 416-yard first and then an eagle at the long next.
That took him to seven under, but he bogeyed the seventh and then another dropped shot came on the short 14th to leave him seven behind.
McIlroy birdied the second and third, but his first bogey of the day came two holes later.
As the leaders set off Harrington and Waring bogeyed the first and fell into a tie for fourth with English pair James Morrison and Anthony Wall, Scot Gary Orr and another of the home contingent, Belfast’s Michael Hoey. The former British amateur champion matched Clarke’s eagle on the second.
Bourdy's advantage immediately went to two with Foster pulling his opening drive and bogeying to fall into a five-way tie for second with Harrington, Wall, Gagli and Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who after also dropping a shot on the first made a 10-foot eagle putt at the next.
The early clubhouse lead was the eight under of Dane Thorbjorn Olesen (66), Scot Craig Lee (67) and Parguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti (68), while McIlroy turned six under, Clarke was five under with two to go and McDowell four under after 12.
Bourdy hit a terrible tee shot on the short third and after dropping a stroke there he three-putted the next for another bogey, missing from barely three feet.
That allowed Donaldson to take over at the top as conditions improved. He saved par with a 20-footer on the fourth and holed from 10 feet for a birdie at the next to go 11 under.
Harrington bogeyed the fourth like Bourdy and slipped into a tie for sixth two behind.