Aaron Rai keeps the heat on as Irish big names frozen out at Galgorm Castle

Major winner Shane Lowry and Pádriag Harrington both miss the cut at Irish Open

Shane Lowry checks his score after finishing his second round in the dark at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm Castle. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Shane Lowry checks his score after finishing his second round in the dark at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm Castle. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

The winter apparel was out in the autumn: from snoods to woolly hats, padded jackets to thermal mitts. Aaron Rai, in fact, had two mitts to warm his hands as he negotiated his way to the top of the leaderboard in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm Castle, although such was the impact of a morning frost, which caused a delay of 90 minutes, ultimately resulting in 27 players failing to complete their rounds as darkness closed in.

On a day when a mix of frost, sunshine and downpours tested the mettle of players, it was again the wind – which reached to 40 kilometres an hour – that proved a constant combatant. With the northerly wind swirling and gusting through the tree-lined course outside Ballymena, club selection and shot-making, and working out actual yardages, made it quite a chore for most.

Rai added a 70 to his opening round 65 for a five-under-par midway total of 135 to consolidate his position, but the leaderboard behind him had a packed appearance. And he now shares the lead with Australia’s Maverick Antcliff, who finished his second round with a flourish on Saturday morning, a 65 moving him to five under par.

Rai’s compatriots Robert Rock, Jordan Smith and Toby Tree are a shot further back, along with South African Dean Burmester and Swede Joakim Lagergren, a winner of the Northern Ireland Open over the course in 2014, all trailed by just one stroke.

It proved to be a rather frustrating day – for the most part – for the home contingent with Pádraig Harrington, a victim of a couple of horseshoe putts that refused to drop, set to miss the cut after a 76 for 146, six over par, including a finishing bogey, while Shane Lowry, who raced against the fading light to ensure that at least he finished, but he too came up short.

Heading into the weekend amateur James Sugrue looks to be the only home player capable of mounting a challange - he lies at one under par after signing for a second round of 72.

“It is a pity,” conceded Harrington, playing his first tournament in six months. “It’s going to be one too many by the looks of it. I did some good stuff at times. I will always take positives from it. My short game was poor, which is normally my strength, and that can be expected from not being out playing. I second guessed myself a few times on a few shots,” added the Dubliner, on a day when he was made an honorary member of the R&A.

Lowry’s race against time didn’t bring the reward he wanted either, as his second round 72 left him on 147. A birdie on the Par 3 14th provided a glimmer of light to the Offalyman, but his finish of four successive pars meant he started his planned five-week break before returning to the PGA Tour ahead of the Masters a couple of days earlier than planned.

“The 10th was an absolute killer, a huge momentum killer,” lamented Lowry, of a hole where he hit his approach into four feet for a birdie putt only to three-putt and sign for a bogey. “That’s just the way it’s been going at the minute. I still fought to the very end. I struggled this week, [with] distance control, how short the ball was going in this cold. I just really struggled. I’m very disappointed to be going home [early], I hate missing the cut at the Irish Open.”

Colm Moriarty, runner-up in the recent Irish PGA Championship, produced a fine 69 for 144, four over, to guarantee his presence for the final rounds while Kilkenny amateur Mark Power birdied three of his closing five holes for a 71 for 145 to get onto the cutline and make it into the weekend.

Rai, whose only European Tour win came in the 2018 Hong Kong Open when he held off Matt Fitzpatrick to claim the title, had four birdies and four bogeys in a second round which finished with a superb 25-footer for birdie on the 18th.

“It was a bit of a mixed bag, but I think it is to be expected, the course played so tough. I think driving is key around here with how thick the rough is. For the most part, I have driven it well the last few days, a lot of shots out of the fairway which can then give you a couple of chances to certain pins,” said Rai.

Leaderboard

(a) denotes amateurs - Cut to take place at end of Round 2 for scores of no more than 145

135 Maverick Antcliff (Aus) 70 65, Aaron Rai 65 70

136 Dean Burmester (Rsa) 65 71, Robert Rock 69 67, Toby Tree 66 70, Joakim Lagergren (Swe) 70 66, Jordan Smith 65 71

137 Justin Harding (Rsa) 68 69, Scott Hend (Aus) 68 69, John Catlin (USA) 67 70, Ewan Ferguson 70 67

138 David Law 69 69, Jazz Janewattananond (Tha) 68 70, Lucas Herbert (Aus) 71 67, Oscar Lengden (Swe) 67 71, Julien Guerrier (Fra) 68 70

139 Richard Bland 72 67, (a) James Sugrue 67 72, Daan Huizing (Ned) 70 69, Sean Crocker (USA) 72 67

140 Marcus Armitage 69 71, Laurie Canter 73 67, Clement Sordet (Fra) 70 70, Adrian Meronk (Pol) 71 69, Calum Hill 70 70, Nacho Elvira (Spa) 69 71, Oliver Farr 70 70

141 Stephen Gallacher 67 74, Joost Luiten (Ned) 71 70, Dave Coupland 72 69, Jonathan Caldwell 71 70, James Morrison 72 69

142 Adri Arnaus (Spa) 73 69, Lucas Bjerregaard (Den) 68 74, Niklas Lemke (Swe) 68 74, Rikard Karlberg (Swe) 67 75, Lars Van Meijel (Ned) 71 71, Jason Scrivener (Aus) 73 69, Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry) 70 72, Wilco Nienaber (Rsa) 70 72

143 Jake McLeod (Aus) 70 73, Darius Van Driel (Ned) 73 70, Dale Whitnell 71 72, Alejandro Canizares (Spa) 71 72, Jack Senior 70 73, Martin Simonsen (Den) 68 75

144 Craig Howie 73 71, Colm Moriarty 75 69, Damien McGrane 70 74, Joel Stalter (Fra) 74 70, Richard McEvoy 72 72, Garrick Porteous 73 71, Mathieu Fenasse (Fra) 72 72, George Coetzee (Rsa) 71 73, Matthew Southgate 74 70, Shubhankar Sharma (Ind) 72 72, Joachim B. Hansen (Den) 72 72, Ross McGowan 73 71

145 Steven Brown 71 74, Richie Ramsay 71 74, Robin Sciot-Siegrist (Fra) 73 72, Scott Jamieson 69 76, Wil Besseling (Ned) 74 71, Max Schmitt (Ger) 73 72, Ben Stow 70 75, Romain Wattel (Fra) 74 71, Mark Power 74 71, Antoine Rozner (Fra) 73 72, Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn) 74 71, Aaron Cockerill (Can) 75 70

146 Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 76 70, Damien Perrier (Fra) 71 75, Kristoffer Reitan (Nor) 72 74, Callum Shinkwin 72 74, Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) 73 73, Ashun Wu (Chn) 76 70, Ashley Chesters 79 67, Tyler Koivisto (USA) 73 73, Francesco Laporta (Ita) 73 73, Lee Slattery 72 74, Graeme Storm 70 76, Jeff Winther (Den) 77 69, Padraig Harrington 71 75

147 Michael Campbell (Nzl) 75 72, Carlos Pigem (Spa) 74 73, David Drysdale 73 74, Julian Suri (USA) 71 76, Shane Lowry 75 72, Jbe Kruger (Rsa) 73 74, Garrick Higgo (Rsa) 68 79, Bernd Ritthammer (Ger) 74 73, Edoardo Molinari (Ita) 74 73

148 Matthew Baldwin 73 75, Wade Ormsby (Aus) 70 78, Steven Tiley 75 73

149 David Howell 72 77, Paul Dunne 75 74, Benjamin Poke (Den) 76 73, Connor Syme 71 78, David Horsey 76 73

150 Zach Murray (Aus) 74 76, Liam Johnston 74 76, Mikko Korhonen (Fin) 72 78

151 Gavin Moynihan 74 77, (a) Tom McKibbon 73 78, Ryan Fox (Nzl) 78 73

152 Marc Warren 74 78, Daniel Young 75 77

153 Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez (Spa) 78 75, Gaganjeet Bhullar (Ind) 75 78, Min Woo Lee (Aus) 75 78

154 Robin Roussel (Fra) 75 79

155 Marcus Kinhult (Swe) 75 80, Oliver Fisher 78 77

156 Haydn Porteous (Rsa) 74 82

157 Cormac Sharvin 83 74

159 Andrea Pavan (Ita) 83 76

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