Sunday 19 November 2017

McIlroy weathers storm to stay clear of Open pack

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits from a bunker on the 12th hole. Photo: Getty
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits from a bunker on the 12th hole. Photo: Getty

Dermot Gilleece

A remarkable crowd of 20,129 braved the elements in the third round of the €4m Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at The K Club yesterday. They had to endure two afternoon suspensions due to lightning, before play was ultimately called off for the day at 8.30pm, due to bad light.

There was considerable comfort, however, in having Rory McIlroy on top of the leaderboard at nine-under for the Championship with three holes still to play.

He was on the tee at the long 16th when officials decided put an end to what had been a thoroughly miserable experience with the weather.

In trying circumstances, McIlroy was clearly determined to compensate for recent disappointments in this event, when opening up a three-stroke lead over reigning Masters champion Danny Willett, playing one hole behind him.

McIlroy said: "It was unfortunate that we couldn't get finished but hopefully we can come back in the morning weather permitting and finish it off and get a clear run of golf in the afternoon.

"It was just getting a little touch and go with the light there so they made a good decision," said McIlroy, who complained to an official that he struggled to read the line of a 15-foot putt on the 15th green.

"Both the 15th and 16th greens are very shaded, and even though it didn't look too dark, the surrounding trees made it even darker."

As to the prospect of a 7.30am start this morning, he said: "It's a nice hole, especially with the tee up [forward]. Hopefully conditions are a little better. I'm feeling good about my game and two par fives with three holes to play - hopefully I can take advantage of those and get a couple of birdies."

Meanwhile, among the other Irish survivors, Shane Lowry seemed decidedly upbeat. Mind you, he had completed a third-round 71 earlier in the day, before the weather broke. In the event, the 2009 champion advocated an immediate return to The K Club, despite speculation that it is destined for Portstewart.

"It's been a great week so far and I'd love to see the tournament back here next year," he said. Interestingly, his view is shared by Colm McLoughlin, vice-chairman of the sponsoring company.

Weather problems as bad as anything experienced over the years, left one wondering about a seeming perennial jinx on this event. Yet typically, the fans seemed to cope admirably and remained on in their numbers, even up to the final resumption of play at 7.55pm.

In that circumstance, Frenchman Sebastien Gros encountered decidedly mixed fortunes. After an eagle on the long 16th had swept him to six-under-par for the Championship and a share of second place with Willett, he proceeded to card a wretched eight on the treacherous 17th, where two balls were consigned to the River Liffey.

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