Monday 25 September 2017

Irish survivors need fast starts to catch leaders at Portstewart

Shane Lowryplays his third shot to the 10th green during his second roun. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Shane Lowryplays his third shot to the 10th green during his second roun. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The caravan keeps rolling, leaving the wounded hearts of some big names left to bleed quietly at the end of a tumultuous second day at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart.

Rory McIlroy hid his personal anguish at missing the cut for the second time in three years.

Graeme McDowell opted to avoid discussing the hurt at a similar fate on his home turf.

The shock of a double-bogey six on the last hole to eliminate him from the championship was too raw for G-Mac to analyse within minutes of finishing his round.

Better news for the home fans was the gritty performances of Paul Dunne, Pádraig Harrington, Gavin Moynihan, and Shane Lowry.

All of them achieved their first goal: survive what became, at four-under par, the lowest cut mark in Irish Open history.

Dunne's 69 for eight-under par leaves him five adrift of the leaders.

Harrington got to seven-under, and but for an agonising missed birdie putt from inside four feet on the last, he too, would have been on the eight-under mark.

Second-year pro Gavin Moynihan and former Irish Open champion Shane Lowry both shot 71, placing the Island GC member on six-under, and Lowry at five-under par.

Meanwhile, a legion of foreigners flourished as if they were raised on links turf, cramming their way to the upper regions of a closely-packed leaderboard which was headed by Frenchman Benjamin Hebert and laid-back New Jersey native Daniel Im, both on 13-under par.

Similar scoring, 64-67, over the two days meant that Hebert and Im tee off together today at 1.30pm.

They will be hunted all the way, as a one-shot lead is nothing on a course where the weather is expected to be reasonable today, compared with cold, wintry and blustery conditions in the morning yesterday.

Paul Dunne was among those who had the worst of the weather, and though he found his patience tested at times, he carded another round in the 60s.

A 10th-tee starter, anyone looking at Dunne clearly angry at himself after a missed par putt on the 16th, his seventh hole, and again on the 17th tee where he banged his club handle on the turf, would say he was in self-destruct mode.

But credit to this guy, he continues to impress.

He got a solid par out of the 17th, was back on track with a couple of early birdies in his back nine, and starts today as the leading Irishman.

"I felt I hit it better than yesterday," he said. "At the start, it was much tougher than yesterday.

"I had 145 (yards) at the 12th and hit a full 7-iron and came up 20 yards short. It was a cold, strong wind for first six holes. I controlled my ball a lot better, especially off the tee.

Impress

"It was nice in a round which was getting a bit frustrating, to turn it around and let the birdies come," said Dunne.

Family, friends, and supporters from Greystones Golf Club, where he learned his golf, have rallied round to support Dunne.

"It has been a great week. There are six of us in the house at the minute, and my brother is coming in tomorrow, so that will be seven.

"I had other friends and family coming up and members of Greystones. It's a great week for me," said Dunne.

Harrington played his 27th competitive round of an injury-disrupted season well, but felt it could have been better.

The applause that greeted his approach shot to the 18th green was richly deserved, as his ball finished inside four feet from the flagstick. A loud groan of disappointment and sympathy greeted his missed birdie putt.

"Played average. Kind of scored average. Didn't get off to a great start.

"I missed the putt on the first hole. Got the pace wrong on the green. The rest of the day I just seemed to be a little bit trying to play catch-up," said Harrington.

The three-time Major champion did little wrong, but on a day when it was a shoot-out , every birdie chance had to count.

"You are trying to stay patient, but you always have an eye on under par and to do that you have to make some birdies.

"Missing the short putt on the last, it's a little bit of a disappointing finish," said Harrington.

Gavin Moynihan, the former Walker Cup player, is in his second year as a pro and feels a little more settled in a life which is quite different from that of a talented amateur operating under the GUI's guidance.

He is enjoying his time at Portstewart so far, but his main goal for the season is to make sure he is inside the top-15 of the Challenge Tour rankings at the end of the campaign.

Bonus

That would get him playing rights on the full Tour next year, so in a sense, this is a bonus week for the 22-year old member of The Island Golf Club.

"This year you know what to expect, the travel, the money aspect, accommodation, who's playing.

"The Challenge Tour's grand because you have a few Irish on the Tour. We room together each week, we have dinner together each week.

"This year's a bit more comfortable, and playing a bit better always make you feel more comfortable.

"There's just less stress on the course. You freewheel it a bit.

"I'm playing Italy next week. That's more of my main concern, the Challenge Tour and the top 15," said Moynihan.

Shane Lowry reckons he needs to set a target of getting to ten-under par today to have any chance of a title challenge.

"It wasn't very good at the finish, but I hit the ball well and then got a bit sloppy coming in.

"I'm very disappointed to bogey the last two,

"I am in for the weekend, and hopefully the weather is going to be alright in the morning, and I can get out and make a few birdies," added Lowry.

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