Whether through external pressure, charity commitments or basic matters of technicality, Rory McIlroy’s Irish Open trouble will linger for another year as he missed the cut.
This time the damage was done during Thursday’s round of 80. Friday’s 71 was hardly the stuff of embarrassment but for a third time in succession he has lasted only 36 holes.
This one will hurt the most, given McIlroy’s charity foundation is the tournament host. The world No1’s departure is painful, too, for sell-out crowds who had hoped to see a four-times major winner in full flow. Not to be, once again, alas.
McIlroy will be remembered for off-course, charitable contributions in recent days rather than his core performance. The ovation afforded to him as he exited stage left on Friday evening displayed an appreciation of that. He is next due to appear at the US Open in mid-June.
To his credit, McIlroy made a valiant effort towards weekend survival. He had reached two under par for the day when taking to the 15th tee; a double bogey on that hole killed home hope. Maybe next year will provide solace for McIlroy. If rumour is to be heeded, Tiger Woods will appear at this event, thereby taking a large chunk of attention elsewhere.
This time, Padraig Harrington could still bring that smile to Irish eyes once more. The 43-year-old is having a curious season, during which he has vaulted back to prominence with a terrific success at the Honda Classic but possibly suffered through an abundance of playing commitments thereafter.
Harrington retains a live chance of success despite disappointment at a second round of 73, leaving him two under par on aggregate. Handily, he has seen and done this all before. “The pressure wouldn’t be gone but it certainly is less or I’m certainly trying to make myself believe that at least. Yes, having won one is always nice,” he said. It would be something to miss in my CV if I had not won an Irish Open. And the pressure to win any tournament is enough to keep your mind occupied.”
Harrington sat at seven under with eight holes to play before a sloppy closing stretch that included back-to-back bogeys in his last two. Perhaps this summed up his year. “I was very comfortable through 28 holes,” he said. “I had a putt there to go eight under par and everything was easy at that stage. What I went through over the last six or seven holes is what most of the players are going through all the time. Hopefully I won’t do it again over the weekend. Hopefully I’ve had my bad run.
“I am pleased to be in contention. Clearly I would have preferred to be that seven, eight under par type thing where I would be in a good position to move away from the field. I’m now in a position that I’m going to have to play well and not get anything going against me.
“There will be a lot of people just making the cut that will feel like they have a chance of winning now that I’ve come back to the pack in some way. It’s going to be a much tougher weekend. I won’t have the luxury of having any bad runs.”
On the wider issue of playing in front of a captive audience, Harrington said it can be tricky to play in front of a crowd that is “willing you on so much”. He added: “I do say there is more distraction at an Irish Open; the times you hit a shot and you’ve let people down is not a normal emotion.
“During The Irish Open, you do sometimes hit a bad shot and you want to tell everybody: ‘It was actually really difficult.’”
The 2009 champion, Shane Lowry, had a tricky time. He broke his putter on the third, his 12th hole, and putted with a wedge for the remainder of the round, which he covered in two over par to be four over for the tournament. “I’m not proud of myself and I apologised to the lads [his playing partners Francesco Molinari and Ernie Els] at the end,” he said.
At three under, Scotland’s Richie Ramsay is a threat to Harrington although this remains a wide open tournament. Ramsay predicted the winning score “won’t get to double digits under par”.
McIlroy will not be part of that discussion but his impact has been a positive one.
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