There will be no Darren Clarke or Padraig Harrington for the huge crowds to cheer on in the final two rounds of the Irish Open here, but Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell plan to fill the void.
McIlroy, not backing down in the slightest in his Twitter row with former European Tour player Jay Townsend, grabbed three late birdies for a second-round 68 yesterday.
When asked about Townsend's "spoilt brat" remark, McIlroy responded yesterday: "Well, I'm an only child – if that means I'm spoilt I don't know. Everybody's got their own opinion and you just to have to take it with a pinch of salt."
Meanwhile, fellow Ulsterman McDowell went two better than McIlroy to put both of them on four under par at halfway. But that is six behind German Marcel Siem, who late in the day eagled the long 16th and sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the next to move one ahead of Indian Jeev Milkha Singh and Dane Soren Hansen.
For Clarke and Harrington, though, the end had come by lunchtime. In his first start since his dream Open Championship victory at Sandwich earlier this month, 42-year-old Clarke dropped four shots in the last eight holes for a 74 and one-over aggregate.
Three-time major winner Harrington had little hope after double-bogeying the short sixth and with a 72 crashed out on three over par. That is now back-to-back missed cuts for the Dubliner before he returns to America and, already down to 64th place in the world rankings, he is likely to fall even further now.
"It's disappointing, but it's only a game," stated Harrington. "There's no doubt that changes are required – for the sake of it rather than anything else. I'm doing everything I would have done when I was winning majors, it's just something fresh is needed. You need a bit of spark somewhere. Even on my worst days I'm not too bad. It's not like I'm shooting 77-78 sort of thing, but momentum is an important thing and I don't have it at the moment.
"I'm not thinking of changing personnel. I've got to change something in myself, attitude or something along the lines of that. I'm not taking time off – I like playing golf."
Clarke admitted his mental energy levels were down after a bout of flu followed his post-Open celebrations. "I just couldn't get anything going," he commented. "A weekend off is not what I wanted. It probably won't do me any harm, albeit I would much prefer to be here to play.
"A couple of things went my way over at Sandwich and here bounces went the other way. Payback time I suppose. I didn't have much time off after the Open, but that's no excuse for shooting 74."
Singh led by two after an opening 63 that matched the lowest round of his career and, given he hit a wild opening drive beside Lough Leane, he settled for adding a 70. But that allowed ex-Ryder Cup man Hansen to catch him with a 66, while defending champion Ross Fisher and fellow Englishmen Simon Dyson and Simon Wakefield are among those on seven under and Irish amateur Paul Cutler stands six under after a 67.
European Tour Irish Open, Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, Killarney, Co Kerry, Ireland: Early second round scores (GB & Irl unless stated, par 71; *=amateur): 133 J M Singh (India) 63 70; 135 R Jacquelin (Fr) 67 68; S Wakefield 69 66; 136 C Del Moral (Sp) 69 67; D McGrane 69 67; P Cutler* 69 67; 137 R Ramsay 68 69; L Gagli (It) 68 69; 138 F Aguilar (Chile) 68 70; T Olesen (Den) 69 69; J Donaldson 70 68; M Brier (Aut) 70 68; 139 R Bland 70 69; N Fasth (Swe) 69 70; J Morrison 71 68; 140 R Jan Derksen (Neth) 71 69; S Kapur (India) 71 69; A Canizares (Sp) 67 73; J Van Zyl (SA) 70 70; A Kaleka (Fr) 65 75; 141 P Whiteford 70 71; R Dinwiddie 70 71; K Ferrie 72 69; O Fisher 68 73; L Saltman 67 74; D Drysdale 71 70; J Sjoholm (Swe) 69 72; K Horne (SA) 70 71; T Goya (Arg) 71 70; 142 S Manley 71 71; D Willett 72 70; D Higgins 71 71; V Dubuisson (Fr) 73 69; P McGinley 70 72; 143 M Campbell (NZ) 66 77; S Pinckney (US) 73 70; D Clarke 69 74; R McGowan 68 75; 144 G Murphy 73 71; T Sluiter (Neth) 75 69; J Zapata (Arg) 72 72; B Dredge 71 73; 145 C Wood 75 70; G Maybin 74 71; P Price 72 73; M Korhonen (Fin) 72 73; G Bourdy (Fr) 72 73; P Harrington 73 72; 146 L Bond 74 72; S Norris (SA) 70 76; R Karlberg (Swe) 76 70; S Jamieson 72 74; S Benson 71 75; 147 R Finch 71 76; R McEvoy 71 76; A Harto (Den) 73 74; 148 D Mooney 74 74; N Kearney 73 75; S S P Chowrasia (India) 73 75; 149 N Dougherty 75 74; D McElroy 72 77; 150 D Mortimer 78 72; 151 N Fox 74 77; 152 E Brady 77 75; S Lowry 74 78; 153 D Carter 78 75; S Hend (Aus) 78 75. DQ: B Trainor. RTD: J-B Gonnet (Fr).