Paul McGinley, relieved to survive the cut in the Nissan Irish Open, has a chance to win the title following a remarkable third round here yesterday.
McGinley started the day joint 67th on level par, 10 shots behind the leader, Peter Lonard. But brilliant though his six-under-par 66 was - no one else shot lower than 69 - things got better after he had finished thanks to a strong wind. The 37-year-old Dub-liner starts today's final round in a tie for fourth, a mere four strokes behind Lonard, whose 72 left him one ahead of fellow Australian Brett Rumford and two in front of South Africa's James Kingston.
McGinley now has a chance to become the first home winner of the Irish Open since John O'Leary in 1982 and also to revive his challenge for a Ryder Cup place. "I've been feeling for the last month that my game is as good as it's ever been, but I haven't been converting the chances," said Europe's match-winning hero at The Belfry two years ago. McGinley is 17th in the Ryder Cup standings, but most of those immediately ahead of him have either taken the week off or missed the cut.
His compatriot Padraig Harrington was amazed to finish only five behind the lead having been 11 adrift after an outward 40. The world No 8 then had six birdies on the back nine for a 71. "I think I need to play a quick nine before I go out," he said. "My focus isn't there and my preparation needs to be a little sharper."
Darren Clarke, another of Ireland's Ryder Cup stars, crashed out of contention with a six-over-par 78 which contained seven bogeys and a double-bogey six at the ninth. "I played atrociously and I give myself a pat on the back for being in a remarkably good mood," said the Ulsterman, who tied for 11th in The Open last week. "The first two days were fantastic tee to green and I flushed it on the range, but once I got out there I struck the ball really badly."
Lonard, six times a winner in Australia, is seeking his first European Tour victory after three runner's-up finishes, but he has earned over $1m in America in each of the last two seasons and at 37 has all the experience necessary. He ran up a triple-bogey six on the dangerous 163-yard seventh, but he refused to panic and birdied the 13th and 16th on his way home.