Donaldson holds off Harrington and the weather
As wet and miserable as Saturday’s third round of the Irish Open was from a meteorological point, Pádraig Harrington – for one – ensured the massive crowds had sufficient reasons to keep their vocal chords active.
He produced two birdies in his closing five holes in shooting a 72, for 10-under-par 206, which left him just two shots adrift of 54-hole leader Jamie Donaldson. The dark clouds which swept in off the north Atlantic, dousing the links for much of the morning and into the afternoon, made life extremely difficult for players and spectators alike. And, yet, the fans – armed with umbrellas and with all types of rainproof fabrics – entered the gates in their droves. Officially, the attendance was 30,721, bringing the total over the first three days to 81,918.
Donaldson, who has career earnings of over €4 million but has yet to win a title on the main tour, grabbed the lead with 69 for 304 that put him a shot clear of Anthony Wall, the Englishman – staying in a nearby mobile home for the week – whose only tour win came in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa all of 12 years ago.
Nobody’s fool, Harrington – the three-time Major champion and poised to launch a final round assault – expects to have to earn the win to add to his 2007 Irish Open title. “There’s nobody going out there thinking, ‘oh, we’ll let the Irish guy win,” said Harrington, whose last European Tour win was the 2008 US PGA championship at Oakland Hills.
He added: “You might think I am the form card, but we are all going to have our little demons out there.”
Harrington recovered from a bogey on the 13th to record a birdie two on ‘Calamity Corner’, the 14th, and birdied the Par 5 17th to get within two strokes of Donaldson. The Dubliner had a 12 footer for birdie on the last, but slid the putt by.
Donaldson has had no fewer than 32 top ten finishes in his European 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 Welshman.
“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.”
For the other Irish, it was a frustrating third round, with Michael Hoey experiencing a tough back nine that saw him come home in 40 strokes for a 74 that slipped him down to tied-25th on the 211 mark.
But world number two Rory McIlroy hung in gamely, signing for a 71 for 210 that moved him to tied-11th.
“A decent score,” observed McIlroy, “but I felt I played well and didn’t get much out of the round . . . I’d love to go out there and put in a 64 or 63 [in the final round] and see where that gets me. We’ll see.”
What happens when the dream dies? Well, for Graeme McDowell, like many others, it was akin to a damp squib. McDowell, on his home course, signed for a 71 – for 212, four-under – that left him too far adrift in his opinion. “I’m just disappointed that the Irish Open is probably out of my reach this year. I’d have loved to have given it a run tomorrow but all I can do is shoot a low one and see if I can get myself up in the top-10,” he said.
Any chance Darren Clarke entertained of a last-gasp charge in Sunday’s final round disappeared with a double bogey seven on the 17th, en route to a third round 73 that left him on 213, three-under. The British Open champion failed to make the 250 yards carry to the fairway, hacked out with an eight-iron and then hit a three-wood into a bunker short of the green. From there, he hit it to 50 feet and three-putted.