Impressive Harrington still has doubts

 

Golf:Pádraig Harrington will tee off in tomorrow's third round firmly in contention for a second Irish Open title after another 67 at Royal Portrush today. The Dubliner is best placed of the home contingent, two shots adrift of clubhouse leader Gregory Bourdy on 10 under.

The Frenchman, the joint-overnight leader with Jeev Milkha-Singh, shot a 67 himself but might have been better placed this evening had he maintained his early momentum this morning.

As it stood in the early evening, he held a one shot lead over England’s Mark Foster, while Harrington is alongside Italian Lorenzo Gagli a shot further back and Englishman Paul Waring who shot a 65. India’s Milkha-Singh only managed to pick up one shot to move to eight under, a shot of another Irish challenger, Michael Hoey, whose five-under-par 67 has him well placed.

“I played well within myself, pretty solid all day,” said Harrington afterwards, but the three-time major winner admitted feeling unsure of his game at the moment despite a notable improvement in results of late. “I was putting for birdie most of the day and didn’t really put myself in trouble. It was as stress-free a 67 you can get in those conditions.”

He added: “I’m playing well, yes, but I know I could play a little better if I trusted it a little bit. I should be pretty confident going into the weekend but I’m not quite sure of myself.”

Harrington had just the one bogey, at the par-four fifth. He opened with consecutive birdies and added another at the eighth to turn in 34. Birdies at 10, 12 and 17 followed, before a narrow miss on the 18th green prevented him form picking up another.

A stunning back nine from local favourite Graeme McDowell saw him move to five under with a 68. The Northern Irishman came home in 32 with four birdies, after reaching the turn in a level par 36.

Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke both shot 69 to advance to five under and four under respectively, while Paul McGinley finished poorly with two bogeys in his final three holes to sit alongside McIlroy and McDowell after he signed for a 70.

Shane Lowry is on four under with Clarke after the former winner carded a four-under 68, while Simon Thornton put together his second consecutive 70 to join them.

McIlroy prevented a fifth missed cut in his last six starts on a course where he shot a record 61 as a 16-year-old and will know he is capable of climbing in contention over the weekend.

McIlroy, with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in attendance at the event after her Wimbledon first round defeat, said: “The last two days have probably been the best ball-striking rounds I’ve had for a while.

“I didn’t do much wrong and hopefully I can have a good weekend. I need something around 64 or 65 to get myself into contention, but I’ve shot low scores here before. I’m hitting a lot of greens and if I take a few more chances I can turn a 69 into 65 very quickly.”

Major winner Keegan Bradley’s first-ever tournament in Europe lasted only two days, but the American believes he is now better equipped for The Open at Royal Lytham in three weeks.

The 26-year-old USPGA champion made the trip to Portrush because of his Irish roots, but had rounds of 73 and 71 to bow out on level par.

Bradley did have four birdies in a row from the 11th, however, and said: “That was fun. Wish I could have kept it going, but maybe next time. I think I will know a little more what to expect there. I played pretty well other than about three shots. I just didn’t play the par fives really well and had a couple of lost balls - that’s no good.

“I hope to come back another time - I can’t wait. Everybody treated me so well.”

Just to make the cut was important for Clarke as he has not managed that all season, but after closing with a 20-foot birdie putt he insisted there was no sense of relief because his sights are set higher than that.

His British Open defence is less than three weeks away and after a month out resting a groin strain he said: “It’s important to have more competitive rounds under my belt. I’m just not tournament sharp.

“I started nicely today, but a bogey took the wind out of my sails and I couldn’t give myself many chances after that. Conditions are getting harder and that’s a good thing. Give these guys soft conditions and not that strong a wind and they will score low. But I’ve been surprised just how low it’s been so far.”

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