PÁdraig Harrington was frustrated not to be in a commanding position to win a second Irish Open title as tournament host Rory McIlroy missed the cut for the third year in succession.
Three-time major champion Harrington predicted on Wednesday that an Irish player would lift the trophy on Sunday, with world number one McIlroy seemingly the most likely contender.
However, while McIlroy could only add a second round of 71 to his opening 80 at a windswept Royal County Down, a 73 on Friday left Harrington just one shot off the lead shared by English pair Tyrrell Hatton and Chris Wood, Scotland's Richie Ramsay, Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen and Austria's Bernd Wiesberger.
McIlroy followed his victory in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play with a seven-shot victory in the Wells Fargo Championship, but missed the cut in the defence of his BMW PGA Championship title at Wentworth and conceded the combination of wind, rain and links golf was not to his liking.
"The conditions at Quail Hollow, that's my game, that's what I do best," McIlroy said. "Give me this golf course in those conditions and it would be a much different story."
The 26-year-old was in sight of making the cut when he followed his first birdie of the week on the seventh with another on the 12th, only to thin a pitch on the 15th and three-putt from off the green for a double bogey.
"I was trying as hard as I could but just couldn't get a good run of holes going," added McIlroy, who had pledged to donate his prize money this week to his own foundation. "Unfortunately I just left myself too much to do.
"The support out there was phenomenal and it's the third year in a row they are not going to see me playing on the weekend.
"I'm more disappointed for them. I'm honestly looking forward to two weeks off before the US Open."
Minutes later McIlroy was in a car and heading home to Holywood, but although his duties as tournament host prevented an onward journey to Florida, he refused to blame them for his performance.
"It's not as difficult as you might think. I'm definitely not using that as an excuse," he added.
Harrington briefly enjoyed a five-shot lead when, having started on the 10th, he followed six straight pars with birdies on the 16th and 17th and picked up another shot on the first.
However, he then played the remaining eight holes in five over par.
"I'm pleased to be in contention but I would have preferred to be seven or eight under par and in a good position to move away from the field," said the 43-year-old, whose victory in the Honda Classic in March was his first on a major tour since the 2008 US PGA.
"I'm now in a position where I need to play well over the weekend and not have anything go against me. There will be a lot of people who just make the cut who will think they can win now that I've come back to the pack. It will be a tougher weekend and I won't have the luxury of any more bad runs."