Donaldson leads by one, Harrington in the hunt

Welshman Jamie Donaldson, winless in 244 European Tour starts, takes a one-stroke lead over England’s Anthony Wall, winless in his last 364, into the final round of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush tomorrow.

Welshman Jamie Donaldson, winless in 244 European Tour starts, takes a one-stroke lead over England’s Anthony Wall, winless in his last 364, into the final round of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush tomorrow.

The pair have the same aim, but have taken a very different approach to the week.

While Donaldson is staying in a boutique hotel which, according to the local tourist board, is “a unique accommodation experience” that “sets a new standard” for the area, Wall is in a caravan park.

“It’s quite a posh caravan – it’s got running water, it’s got gas,” said the 37-year-old Londoner after battling wind and heavy rain for a brilliant 67 he described as “probably the best round I’ve ever played”.

Wall is sharing with fellow player Andrew Marshall and explained: “I didn’t want to stay in town because it was going to be quite boisterous.

“I knew we would have a bit of fun and it’s been nice to relax. Half the time you seem to be on your own and you’re sort of killing time.”

With overnight leader Gregory Bourdy crashing to an 80 – it included a triple bogey eight on the 17th – Donaldson took over at the top with a 69.

Their records, though, still leave three-major winner Padraig Harrington as the title favourite.

The 2007 champion’s 72 left him sharing third spot with Englishman Mark Foster, two behind, while Rory McIlroy is six back, Graeme McDowell eight behind and Open champion Darren Clarke nine adrift.

Donaldson has had no fewer than 32 top-10 finishes in his Tour career, but hopes his first-ever hole-in-one on the opening day was a sign of things to come.

“I’ve had a few chances, but at the end of the day I’ve not been good enough so far to stand on the last green holding the trophy,” said the 36-year-old.

“You’ve got to keep trying and it’s one shot at a time, one hole at a time.

“The only person I am playing against, I suppose, is myself. I’ve got to stay out of my own way.

“Obviously Padraig is a class player, but it’s me versus me really.”

While James Morrison won an £80,000 for his ace at the 14th Donaldson had to be content with a bottle of whisky and a ride-on plastic car for his baby son.

He could have the last laugh, however. First prize is over £267,000 and the title would mean the world to him.

After an opening bogey he eagled the long second from 10 feet, saved par from 20 feet at the fourth, then made birdie putts of 10 and 25 feet on the following two greens.

With conditions really tough – amazingly there was still a crowd in excess of 30,000 for the first Irish Open north of the border since 1953 – Wall caught him, but Donaldson edged back in front with another birdie at the 16th.

Wall had birdied three of the first four holes and then on the long ninth into the wind struck “the best drive and three-wood I’ve ever hit”.

He found the elevated green, two-putted to turn in 32 and after running up a six on the 478-yard next added further birdies at the 11th and 17th.

There was a real danger the last might spoil his day when his drive bounced off a spectator into a bush, but after taking a penalty drop his seven-iron third shot finished just six inches from the flag and allowed him to escape with a par.

Wall’s one Tour victory came in South Africa 12 years ago. He had only two full seasons on the circuit behind him at the time, but although he has earned over £5million and comfortably kept his card every year since then, 40 more top-10 finishes have not included any titles.

Harrington therefore has more major titles than Donaldson and Wall have Tour wins between them.

Foster, meanwhile, is chasing his first victory since 2003, while at nine under fifth-placed Paul Waring is still not out of the running for a maiden win that would be truly stunning.

This is his first Tour event since the BMW PGA Championship in May last year. He suffered a wrist injury at Wentworth, underwent wrist surgery soon afterwards and resumed full practising only a few weeks ago.

Harrington said after his 72: “You might think I am the form card, but we are all going to have our little demons out there.” His last European Tour success was the 2008 USPGA Championship.

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