Sunday 11 December 2016

Rory McIlroy in prime position to strike after weather-affected day at K Club

Published 21/05/2016 | 12:16

Rory McIlroy hit the front on day three of the Irish Open at The K Club
Rory McIlroy hit the front on day three of the Irish Open at The K Club

Tournament host Rory McIlroy got everything he wanted apart from the weather as he moved into pole position to win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open for the first time at The K Club.

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McIlroy had missed the cut in his home event for the last three years, but added a second round of 70 to his opening 67 to head into the third round just a shot off the lead shared by Masters champion Danny Willett and Scotland's Marc Warren.

And, despite failing to engage the extra gear he felt necessary to claim a first win of the season, the four-time major winner found himself with a three-shot lead with three holes to play before play was suspended due to darkness after two delays for bad weather.

"I think they made the right call," said the 27-year-old, who was involved in a lengthy discussion with a rules official on the 16th tee before play was finally abandoned for the day.

" It was getting dark out there. I struggled to read my putt on 15 and wasn't really comfortable to hit the tee shot on 16. A ctually the tee shot would have been okay to hit I think, but I didn't feel the point to hit one tee shot and come back tomorrow morning anyway to play the second shot.

"I don't feel like we delayed it too much by not hitting that tee shot. I think they made the right decision and I'm happy that I can go out there in the morning and hopefully hit that tee shot in the sunshine.

"I've got two par fives in the last three holes to try and get another couple birdies and go into the final round with a nice lead. I birdied the two par fives that I played and parred everything else, and if I can birdie the other two par in the morning, I'll be happy with my day's work.

"I feel like my game is good enough that I'll keep giving myself chances, hit fairways, hit greens, and if I can knock a few in, hopefully that will be good enough to get the job done."

After Willett had missed from three feet for par on the second, McIlroy's two-putt birdie on the par-five fourth gave him the outright lead for the first time, although Willett soon birdied the same hole to get back on level terms.

However, the world number nine then failed to get up and down from right of the sixth green and drove into the water on the seventh to card back-to-back bogeys, leaving McIlroy out in front.

Willett had just teed off on the 10th when the siren sounded to suspend play due to the threat of lightning in the area, with McIlroy missing a long eagle putt across the green in the group ahead.

Play eventually resumed after a delay of two hours and twenty minutes and McIlroy wasted no time in tapping in for his second birdie of the day to move to nine under and extend his lead to three shots.

Unfortunately, only 39 minutes of play was possible before another suspension, McIlroy running the length of the par-three 14th to mark his ball in the fringe after the siren sounded again.

Surprisingly play restarted shortly before 8pm, but McIlroy completed just two more holes as more rain fell and the decision was finally taken to abandon play for the day, with a restart scheduled for 0730 on Sunday.

Willett remained three shots behind with Scotland's Russell Knox and South Africa's Richard Sterne another stroke adrift, Knox making a fortunate birdie on the 16th after his approach hit rocks on the edge of a water hazard but bounced forward on to the green.

Knox, who dumped three balls into the water on the 17th while in contention for the Players Championship last week, parred the 18th to set the clubhouse target on five under and said: " I think I was due a good break.

"I had a good hybrid distance on 16 and I just chunked it. I had given up on it to be honest and when I saw it hit the rock, I was like, that's going forward. So I was very fortunate there."

Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello had been six under par with two holes to play only to find water off the tee on the 17th to run up a double bogey before the first suspension.

And the world number 30, who beat McIlroy in the third-fourth place play-off in the WGC-Dell Match Play in March, then bogeyed the last on the resumption to join France's Gregory Bourdy and Romain Wattel in the clubhouse on three under.

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