Padraig Harrington was frustrated not to be in a commanding position to win a second Irish Open title as tournament host Rory McIlroy missed the cut for the third year in succession.
Three-time major champion Harrington predicted on Wednesday that an Irish player would lift the trophy tomorrow, with world No 1 McIlroy seemingly the most likely contender.
However, while McIlroy could only add a second round of 71 to his opening 80 at a windswept Royal County Down, a 73 left Harrington just one shot off the lead shared by English pair Tyrrell Hatton and Chris Wood, Scotland’s Richie Ramsay, Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger.
McIlroy followed his victory in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play with a seven-shot victory in the Wells Fargo Championship, but missed the cut in the defence of his BMW PGA Championship title at Wentworth and conceded the combination of wind, rain and links golf was not to his liking.
“The conditions at Quail Hollow, that’s my game, that’s what I do best,” McIlroy said. “Give me this golf course in those conditions and it would be a much different story.”
The 26-year-old was in sight of making the cut when he followed his first birdie of the week on the seventh with another on the 12th, only to thin a pitch on the 15th and three-putt from off the green for a double bogey.
McIlroy’s duties as tournament host prevent him journeying back to the USA, but he refused to blame them for his performance.
“It’s not as difficult as you might think. I’m definitely not using that as an excuse,” he added. “If anything it has fallen at a bad time as my fifth tournament in a row. In an ideal world I would have come in here with a bit different preparation.”
Harrington briefly enjoyed a five-shot lead when, having started on the 10th, he followed six straight pars with birdies on the 16th and 17th and picked up another shot on the first.
However, he then played the remaining eight holes in five over par.
“I’m pleased to be in contention but I would have preferred to be seven or eight under par and in a good position to move away from the field,” said the 43-year-old, whose victory in the Honda Classic in March was his first on a major tour since the 2008 US PGA.
“I’m now in a position where I need to play well over the weekend and not have anything go against me. There will be a lot of people who just make the cut who will think they can win now that I’ve come back to the pack. I won’t have the luxury of any more bad runs.”
Harrogate’s John Parry leads the Yorkshire challenge after adding a one-under-par 70 to his opening 72 to be tied for 10th.
Parry dropped a shot at the 10th, his opening hole, but retrieved it with a birdie at the 17th, and then responded to another bogey at the fifth with birdies at the sixth and eighth holes.
Just one shot further back in joint 13th spot is Sheffield’s Matthew Fitzpatrick (71 72).
Fitzpatrick also began at the 10th hole and made partial amends for dropping shots at three consecutives holes from the 14th with a birdie at the 17th.
He will be slightly disappointed to have dropped a shot at the eighth after birdies at the first and seventh, but has put himself in a promising position going into the weekend.
Danny Willett, also from Sheffield, lay just two off the lead after his opening 69, but struggled to a 76 yesterday and is tied for 30th place.
A birdie at the first gave false promise and a bogey immediately followed at the next hole, and a double bogey six at the eighth.
Three more shots got away from him on the inward nine without compensation.
Richard Finch was heading home for Hull following rounds of 74 and 78.
A stuttering start saw shots scattered to the wind at the first two holes as well as the eighth, and the inward nine proved even more taxing, four strokes lost to par which included a double bogey at the last.
Malton’s Simon Dyson, who is hampered by a wrist injury which requires surgery, withdrew after his first-round nine-over-par 80.