Harrington leads home challenge


THEIR PATHS cross again. As the forgotten man from the British Open of 2007, Grégory Bourdy – a laconic Frenchman – reminded us he’d also contended, however briefly, in that breakthrough Major win of Pádraig Harrington’s.

“I was the same score after two rounds as he was,” he reminded us, lest we’d forgotten. And we had.

Now, he’s here as a potential gatecrasher in an Irish Open at Royal Portrush that, with each and every passing day, is proving itself to be anything but a regular tournament.

The record crowds, with their assortment of backpacks, rain gear and umbrellas, has ensured this event has been taken out of the ordinary and become a spectacular showpiece for the sport.

Bourdy, ranked 175th in the world and without a top-10 finish on the European Tour this season, shot a second round 67 to add to his opening 65 to assume the half-way lead and potentially turn a mediocre campaign into a great one.

Bourdy claimed that some inside knowledge from none other than Darren Clarke – who played a practice round with him – had aided and abetted his bid for a first tour win since the Hong Kong Open  in 2009. Having changed his putter at the start of the week, Bourdy’s new assurance on the greens has combined with good iron play and solid driving to put him into the driving seat.

Of the trials and tribulations he has experienced so far this season, Bourdy explained: “It’s not easy to play bad, or not up to expectations. But it’s golf. Golf is difficult. We never know what is going to happen. Two years ago, I didn’t miss one cut during 12 months and the season after I missed 10 cuts. So you have to keep going, keep practising . . . I’m not too worried.”

The biggest casualty when the cut fell on 142, two-under, was US PGA champion Keegan Bradley who was left to lament two lost balls over the two rounds which ultimately made the difference in surviving the cut and going home early. But the American promised he would be back for a future tilt at an Irish Open.

If he cared to look over his shoulders, Bourdy would see a chasing pack comprised of some serous players, among them the four Irish Major champions, who responded to the record crowds with uplifting performances of their own.

Harrington’s second successive 67 may have put him down as the prime chaser, but Graeme McDowell’s was resurgent when faced with the prospect of a missed cut as he moved into the homeward journey of his second round.

“There were plenty of people in this crowd, family and friends, who’d have given me plenty of abuse ,” said McDowell, who galvanised his challenge with a run of three successive birdies from the 10th.

For good measure, McDowell rolled in a right-to-left breaker from 15 feet on the 18th to sign for a 68, for 139, that put him onto the fringes of contention.

As he assessed that birdie putt on the 18th, his caddie Kenny Comboy remarked, “this is a 40-minute putt,” referring to the extra time it would give in bed. To which McDowell responded, “it’s a 20-decibel putt,” adding: “It’s been great, some of the cheers have had the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. They’re the kind of cheers that are saved for the Open really, or the Ryder Cup.”

He added: “There’s nothing quite like this in a regular tour event, though I hate saying that word “regular”, because we play some fantastic tournaments around the world. But there’s something a little bit extra special about this crowd. It does have a Ryder Cup flavour to it because they genuinely are pulling for all the Irish boys, and it’s always a good feeling.”

While McDowell hauled his way back into the tournament with an error-free run home that yielded four birdies, world No 2 Rory McIlroy added a second-round 69 to his opening 70 to sit on the same mark as McDowell but believing he needed to shoot a combined 12-under over the weekend if he were to challenge.

“I definitely feel I have made a couple of big strides forward since the US Open and as long as I continue to work on it and keep doing the right things I feel I am on the right track. It’s nothing to do with the putts. What really left me those few weeks was ball-striking.

“That’s what I really do well so it is back to making your strengths as strong as possible and for me that’s driving the ball on the fairway and driving it well. Hitting good iron shots and giving yourself chances for birdies,” observed McIlroy.

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