Stress-free round gives Harrington hope for second Irish title

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Padraig Harrington, one of only two home winners of the Irish Open since 1982, has given himself the chance to do it again.

Without a European Tour win since the last of his three majors in 2008, but eighth in The Masters and fourth in the US Open two weeks ago, Harrington lies joint third on 10-under after two 67s at Royal Portrush.

While local heroes Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell are all still around for the weekend – for Open champion Clarke it was a first cut made all year – they would all pay a lot for Harrington’s position.

The 40-year-old Dubliner, who trails France’s Gregory Bourdy by two, is not exactly oozing confidence yet, however.

“I’m playing a game I’m not familiar with,” he said. “I’m hitting far more fairways and greens than normal and I know I could play better if I trusted it a bit more.

“I’ve shortened my swing significantly and I didn’t really put myself in any trouble. It was as stress-free a 67 as you could get in these conditions.”

Bourdy and second-placed Mark Foster also shot 67, while Foster’s fellow Englishman Paul Waring – playing his first event for over a year following wrist surgery – had a 65 to join Harrington and Italian Lorenzo Gagli (66).

Harrington won the tournament five years ago, won his first major at Carnoustie two months later and the following season added two more.

He would love the same to happen and he does not rule it out.

“I know they are around the corner and they tend to come like buses. When you get one a few more arrive very quickly.”

In the first Irish Open north of the border since 1953 McIlroy and McDowell both stand five under, with Clarke one further back. Both need something special just to have a shot at the title.

Bourdy is a stablemate of Clarke and that proved useful on Tuesday when he joined him for a practice round.

“I saw him on a tee and asked if it was possible to share a game,” said the 30-year-old from Bordeaux. “He is with the same manager, so I think that helped to get the right answer.

“Darren has been great with me. He gave me a lot of advice and maybe that gave me some confidence for the week.”

He needed some. Bourdy has not had a top 10 finish all season and is down at 112th on the Tour money list and 175th in the world – 100 places exactly below what he was 12 months ago.

Joint overnight leader with Indian Jeev Milkha Singh, Bourdy eagled the long second and at six under for the first 10 holes was three clear of the field.

Bogeys did follow on the 11th and 14th, the two par threes on the back nine, but he holed from 20 feet for birdie at the long 17th.

Clarke, of course, was not about to celebrate surviving a cut because that is not what he is about, but he knew it was important.

It is under three weeks to the start of his Open title defence and Royal Lytham and the 43-year-old stated: “I’m just not tournament sharp and it’s important to have more competitive rounds.”

He has taken a month off to rest a groin strain and coming as it did after a nightmare run he said: “The break was massive.

“I needed to get away and the injury was a bit of a blessing in disguise.”

While Clarke is also playing next week’s French Open McIlroy is in his last event for The Open and, having missed the cut on four of his last five starts, Portrush took on real meaning for him too.

Defending champion Simon Dyson dropped off the pace despite a level-par round of 72. He remains on five-under, seven behind the leader.

Leeds’s Danny Denison missed the cut by one shot, while Hull’s Richard Finch – winner in 2008 – also headed home early after finishing level par, a shot adrift of Denison.

It proved a tournament too far in a hectic week for Sheffield’s Danny Willett, whose round of 74 ended his participation in the event, five days after winning his breakthrough win in Germany.