Downpours dampen Dredge's day

European Open acquires a crowded leaderboard as torrential rain threatens to flood Smurfit Course

Keeping your head above water was not just a metaphorical necessity here yesterday as the Liffey threatened to burst its banks and the European Open threatened to float away into the land of farce. If Co. Kildare is this wet in July, then what will it be like come the end of September for the Ryder Cup? Message to Tiger Woods: bring the waterproofs, bring the wellies, and bring the bloody canoe if the private jet can accommodate it.

Before then, there's this £2.4 million extravaganza to sort out, and if yesterday's frenetic scoreboard activity is anything to go by then it will sure take some sorting. By the end of the third round, Spain's Jose Manuel Lara, on nine under, might have enjoyed a one-shot lead over England's Anthony Wall after a seven-birdie 67, but the afternoon had just proved that nothing seems to last for long on the Smurfit Course. Except for the rain, of course.

Just ask Bradley Dredge, who after six holes had a five-shot advantage but then ran backwards after promising to run away. The Welshman went 42 holes without a bogey but had five of the blighters in the next nine holes. Dispiriting? Perhaps. Disastrous? Not quite. Despite a 75, thanks to acompetitive leaderboard he is still within three shots and has a squeak.

As are Darren Clarke (two behind), Paul Casey (three behind), Tom Lehman (four behind) Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood (five behind), and any number of competitors who can only dream of joining this cast list back here on the adjoining Palmer Course in the autumn.

Clarke would naturally be today's most popular winner, though with the field bunching up there are so many possibles. A bizarre weather pattern and an equally strange decision by the officials made certain of it.

In fairness, the dire forecasts had cajoled them into moving the tees forward, which was helpful to the pacesetters but more so to the backmarkers, who were, in effect, being invited to make headway as the sun shone. Nobody did it more eagerly than Paul McGinley, whose 67 shifted him into the red at three under and on to the outskirts of contendership.

That was infinitely more than he could have hoped for on Friday evening as he sat in the departures lounge at Dublin Airport, head in hands, waiting for his flight back to Sunningdale and yet another weekend to reflect on yet another missed cut. "I was 91st when I left the course and only 65 plus ties were staying," he explained. "There was no way I was making it. My kid's sports day was on today and I was going back for that."

Then the board flashed up that his 5pm flight was delayed by 45 minutes and his misery seemed complete. When his wife's name flashed up on his mobile he probably feared for yet more bad news. "Good that you're coming back, there's some painting to be done," or something of that ilk. But it was something else. Something else entirely.

"Alison told me, 'You'd better hang around there, the scores are tumbling'," said McGinley, whose two-over inadequacy incredibly became good enough. One problem. His luggage was by now on the plane, and that included his clubs; with an earlier bomb scare throwing the airport into chaos, getting them taken off was not really feasible.

Unless you're an Irish Ryder Cup hero, that is. "Aer Lingus were brilliant," he said. "They made it top priority to track down my clubs. And if their plane hadn't been delayed I would have gone home."

As would the chance of a round that may just represent the turning point in a season that has gone decidedly miserable since his annus mirabilis of 2005. The Ryder Cup berth that appeared so stable a matter of weeks ago has begun to look extremely shaky. "Hopefully now I'm entering a peak after the trough, as I need it," he said, looking at the scoreboard and praying the scores would work out for him just as they had the night before.

Ian Woosnam, Europe's captain, would have had his hands clasped, too. He needs the Dubliner in his ranks in three months' time. Always assuming the K Club has not joined Atlantis by then.

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