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Mount Juliet set for exciting finale despite disappointing showing from Irish stars

2020 champion John Catlin set the early pace with the lowest round of the day.

Seamus Power stands on the 18th green.
Seamus Power stands on the 18th green.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

THERE ARE NO Irishmen up around the top of the leaderboard heading into the final day of the Horizon Irish Open but, given the drama that could potentially unfold on Sunday, that may not matter.

Consider what happened in Saturday’s third round as a small taste of what could be awaiting the sold-out crowd at Mount Juliet on day four. At one point there were five players in a share of the lead as the final groups made their way towards the end, and by the close of play, there are 14 players within four shots of the lead.

LIV Golf claim that their shotgun start format makes it for more exciting viewing. It can’t be more exciting than this.

2020 champion John Catlin set the early pace with the lowest round of the day, the American braving the elements to shoot a seven-under 65 that posted the clubhouse lead at 12-under-par as the final groups reached the back nine. Only one group later, Norway’s Espen Kofstad matched him both on the day and in the tournament.

As the rain fell in bucketloads for the second straight day, it looked like that was going to be a competitive total. With tee shots not getting their usual run and greens saturated by the downpour, conditions were tougher for the later starters.

Séamus Power found that out to his detriment. It wasn’t helped that he and playing partner Jack Senior were delayed for 10 minutes due to a medical emergency on the first tee, but even beyond that his round was, in his own words, one “you’d prefer when you’re 60th going into round three”.

The West Waterford man was willed on by the crowd who were hoping for a home winner, but he found the water off the tee on the par-three third and that set the tone for his day. Having started the round three shots off leader Jorge Campillo, a brutal five-over 77 dropped him back to three-under-par and out of the running.

You would have gotten good odds on Shane Lowry being the best Irishman after round three given with four holes left in his second round, he looked destined to miss the cut, but an early morning 68 took him to seven-under-par. He’s not in contention to win but it’s another stepping stone in the right direction.

Pádraig Harrington added a relatively benign second consecutive 71 to move up to four-under, while Niall Kearney will play his final round alongside Power after a 72 which had threatened so much more early on kept him at two-under-par. A 7:53am tee time on Sunday for the Irish duo should whet the appetite of the spectators ahead of the main course.

But just because Irish interest will be coming to an end as the leaders make the turn on Sunday doesn’t mean we won’t get a grandstand finish at Mount Juliet as anyone in the top 15 is in with a shout and there are no stand-out candidates putting their hands up.

Poland’s Adrian Meronk holds all the cards with a one-shot lead at 14-under-par. His third-round 68 was not flawless, as three bogeys will attest to, but he pulled out some important shots when he needed them as he strung together birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th to move one clear.

The 29-year-old has been knocking on the door of a first DP World Tour win for almost two years and has six top-six finishes this season alone. While that suggests a perennial choker, at some point you feel he has to convert one of them into a victory — can it be now?

But if the World No 110 falters again, there are plenty who are willing and capable of stealing in and capitalising on his misfortune, and that should be a tantalising thought for anyone lucky enough to be heading to Thomastown on Sunday.

England’s Jack Senior, who will partner him in the final group on Sunday and is one shot back at 13-under, has already won in Ireland having claimed the 2019 ISPS HANDA World Invitational at Galgorm. Spain’s Jorge Campillo and Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, who form the penultimate pairing and are also at 13-under, have the experience of two DP World Tour wins each.

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Catlin is a former champion at this event and is hungry for more after a slide down the world rankings. He starts two shots back at 12-under alongside the unknown quantity that is Kofstad, with both taking momentum into the final round after their 65s.

And what of Australia’s Lucas Herbert? The defending champion briefly tied the lead at one point during the third round before settling for a 68 to start Sunday three behind at 11-under, with one-time DP World Tour winner Thriston Lawrence at that score as well.

Even beyond the ultimate destination of the title, there is drama as there are Open spots on offer for the top three finishers not already qualified, with Campillo, Zanotti, Senior, Catlin and Kofstad all in that bracket. Every birdie counts, even if it’s not to take you to the summit.

While the winner is anybody’s guess, there are some things you can hang your hat on heading into the final day. There will be ebbs and flows. There will be someone down the leaderboard who will make a late run for the title. The crowds will come out in force and lap up every moment.

Sunday at the Irish Open rarely doesn’t deliver — with the storylines on deck at Mount Juliet, it won’t fail to this time either.

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