Rory McIlroy brings the noise as he roars up the Irish Open leaderboard with 66

World number two moves into third place as he looks to win at The K Club for a second time

Rory McIlroy reacts on the ninth green during the third round of the Horizon Irish Open at The K Club. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Finally the fireworks from Rory McIlroy at the Irish Open the home crowd had been waiting for. It is seven years since the world number two has seriously contended for his home tournament – when he won at The K Club in 2016 – and at the same venue he produced a vintage display of ball-striking and a strong day on the greens to shoot a six-under 66 to move within two shots of the lead.

His hopes of contention appeared somewhat slim at the start of the day. Eight behind the 36-hole leaders Shubhankar Sharma and Jordan Smith and with the forecast for another hot and dry day, only a round in the low 60s would seem to suffice. But the tournament organisers put up a few more difficult pin placements, and with slightly more wind it was enough to halt the leaders from racing ahead.

Unsurprisingly, a large crowd followed his every move to get into the Rory action, to get the photo on the phone that will be a treasured memory, get their shouts and well wishes in. McIlroy after the round described the Irish cheers as being more “visceral” than they are at American venues, as the Irish Open crowds live and die with every shot. Two under through four holes, they had plenty to cheer about.

On the sixth hole, his worst drive of the day into the right trees saw the end of his 3-wood, which he broke by hitting the corner of the tee marker with the shaft. Worry not, as a super escape from almost 200 yards to 10 feet gave a flavour of what was to come in terms of ball-striking. It was a shame a missed putt followed.


On the seventh hole came a potentially momentum-sapping drive into the right hazard. McIlroy responded with an iron from 140 yards to six feet and avoided a blot on the card. There were two agonising groans from the crowd at the ninth and 10th as McIlroy lipped out twice, once a birdie putt on the ninth and once an eagle chip at the 10th.

When he birdied the 12th hole there was a roar around the course only McIlroy can bring, and an electricity in the air that this round could be special. Putts from 23 and 15 feet dropped at 12 and 13 to move within three of the lead. The chase was on.

Rory McIlroy putts on the 18th green as crowds look on at The K Club. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The 34-year-old was striding confidently down the fairway at this point, with his unmistakable swagger, giving himself birdie looks on almost every hole. But potential disaster struck at the 16th, a hole where a plaque on the fairway memorialises his famous shot in 2016, and where he added another chapter yesterday with an eagle hole out.

McIlroy, within iron range, could not resist a go at the par-five green and his approach went right off the rocks and into the water. Playing into the wind, he misjudged his approach from the drop zone and fortunately bounced off the rocks into the middle of the green, a foot away from avoiding a potential triple-bogey. “I got incredibly fortunate,” McIlroy said later, as he carded a six and happily moved on.

After his only dropped shot of the day, McIlroy finished in style with two birdies at 17th and 18th as the “Rory, Rory” chants intensified. On the 18th, his huge 346-yard drive could not have been placed more perfectly, a three-quarter 9-iron to the middle of the green then saw him two-putt for an easy birdie and a 66, the joint lowest round of the day. Starting the round eight shots behind, the tournament favourite was lurking only one off the lead.

“It would be great [to win another Irish Open], I am excited to have the chance again tomorrow,” McIlroy said. “Apart from winning here before at The K Club my record in the Irish Open hasn’t been as good as I would like it to be. It’s nice to have another opportunity.

“I think to bounce back with two birdies on 17 and 18 after hitting the water on 16 was huge. Overall a great day’s play. It felt very solid.”

With a weather forecast giving some heavy rain showers on Sunday and an inexperienced leaderboard heading in reverse, solid might be enough on Sunday after a moving day in which the tournament’s true superstar more than delivered.