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Dublin: 8°C Saturday 15 May 2021

Home interest fades as South African Van Rooyen seizes control at the Irish Open

McIlroy, McDowell and Dunne all left frustrated on moving day at Ballyliffin.

Updated at 6.15pm

Adam McKendry reports from Ballyliffin 

LOCAL HOPES SEEM to have ended at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open as Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell carded disappointing third rounds at Ballyliffin.

McDowell was first in of the pair, carding a one-over 73 to sit one-over for the tournament, while McIlroy shot a level par 72 to remain at one-under for the three days.

South Africa’s van Rooyen shot a six-under 66 in the third round and will take a four shot lead into the final day on 14-under par.

Rory McIlroy tees off on the 8th Rory McIlroy tees off on the 8th. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Van Rooyen didn’t have a dropped shot all day as he surged ahead thanks to six birdies in a stunning front nine of 29, which he then backed up with a solid back nine of all pars.

Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox are his closest challengers at 10-under, after rounds of 69 and 70 respectively, with England’s Danny Willett a further stroke back after he went round in three-under.

However, it was a disappointing day for local golfers as none of them were under par on a day when the wind and rain finally swept in after several days of perfect conditions.

McIlroy was level par for the day, keeping him marooned at one-under and out of contention, while McDowell carded a one-over 73 to sit one-over for the tournament and Shane Lowry was two-over on the day, dropping back to level for the three days.

That means they are a long way behind leader Van Rooyen who, after shooting the best round of the week on Friday with a 65, looked to be well on his way to another stunning score when he turned in 29.

The South African birdied the first two holes and gained a further stroke at the fourth, before he then rattled off three straight birdies from the seventh to the ninth as he tore apart the Glashedy’s defences.

However, his momentum stalled on the back nine, but he did recover well on several occasions – namely an excellent recovery on the 15th from a fairway bunker – to finish out his round with nine straight pars.

“It’s always nice getting off to a good start,” Van Rooyen said of his front nine. “From there I was able to keep it going.

Erik van Rooyen on the 18th hole Erik van Rooyen.

“I didn’t hit it as well off the tee (on the back nine) and obviously keeping it in the fairway is key on this golf course.

“It’s not over until the 18th hole though. I’m going to stick to my game plan and make some birdies.”

Playing partner Lagergren was trying to keep pace with him but struggled, his three front nine birdies dropping him four strokes behind, and he too would play the entire back nine in only pars, much to his frustration.

“I feel like I played well, I just left a lot of shots out there,” a disappointed Lagergren said. “I didn’t hole many putts and I should be a lot better.

But I’m still hitting the ball well, so (I’m going to do) the same stuff tomorrow, I know I have a low one in there. Play some good golf and I’ll be able to catch him.”

Fox was the opposite, turning in one-over after a tough opening nine, but he chalked up three birdies on the back nine to save face and keep himself in contention going into Sunday.

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But for the home players it was not a good day as Paul Dunne finished alongside McDowell at one-over, with Simon Thornton failing to make any significant moves up the leaderboard too.

It was a break from the norm at Ballyliffin as wet weather came in, the rain and slightly stronger winds causing problems for the players as they tackled the links.

Joakim Lagergren on the 18th green Joakim Lagergren on the 18th green. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Early starters made excellent pace as defending champion Jon Rahm set the clubhouse lead alongside former European Ryder Cup star Andy Sullivan at six-under.

Rahm in particular was very impressive on his front nine as he posted six birdies and a bogey to turn in five under, but he then could only manage nine pars on his back nine, leading to plenty of frustration from the Spaniard.

“I gave myself plenty of chances on the back nine, I just couldn’t make any putts,” the World No.5 lamented. “Either way, five-under par is a great round.

Hopefully the weather that’s forecast comes in and makes it tricky so the leaders don’t get too far away from me.”

McIlroy had a hugely disappointing front nine as he cancelled out three birdies with three bogeys, and all he could manage on the back nine was one birdie and a closing bogey at the 18th.

“(That was) pretty similar to the last couple of days,” McIlroy said. “I hit the ball pretty well, a few loose shots here and there, and I held a few putts here and there as well.

“I feel like with that rain coming in the greens slowed up a little, I had trouble getting it to the hole.

“I’ve just been stuck in neutral this week. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it off with a good one tomorrow.”

Erik van Rooyen on the 10th van Rooyen pictured on the 10th. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

McDowell was even more disappointed by his round as he saw two early birdies at the third and fifth undone by bogeys at the 9th, 11th and also the 18th.

Afterwards, the Rathmore man admitted he was tired from his recent schedule and would be considering his option over the upcoming days.

I’m going to play tomorrow and then I’m going to have a chat about whether I’m going to play (at the Scottish Open) next week or not – that’s kind of where my head is right now,” he admitted.

“I’ve got too much golf. Something has to give. And I haven’t seen my family much at all, it’s been a really hard run in the last couple of months especially. I’m ready to have a week off to be honest, a proper week off.”

Meanwhile, Dunne was also going well having birdied the second and fourth, but a bogey at the eighth and a double bogey on the 10th halted his momentum, before he salvaged his round with a birdie at 17.

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