Padraig Harrington defied strong, gusting winds to card a superb four under par 68 and take the lead at the halfway stage of the Irish Open at Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort.
Harrington, who rates his national Open behind only the four Majors among the tournaments he covets most, picked up five birdies with just one bogey to lie at three under par 141 and one stroke clear of Swede Joakim Backström, Argentina’s Andres Romero and England’s Simon Wakefield.
With the tees moved forward 321 yards, the 35 year old Dubliner took full advantage as he moved a step closer to becoming the first home winner of the Irish Open since John O’Leary 25 years ago.
After starting at the tenth, Harrington birdied three of his first seven holes before dropping his only shot of the day on the 18th. He bounced straight back with a birdie on the first and also birdied the fourth but missed good chances on the seventh and ninth, the latter from just three feet.
"I played really well and created a lot of chances," said Harrington. "I didn't get myself into any bother all day and it's hard to believe I shot 68 and I'm thinking of what might have been.
"The course is set up very reasonably considering the conditions and on every hole I was thinking about trying to make birdie, rather than yesterday when it was trying to make par.
"I prefer a course like this, the wind doesn't bother me and I know I have an advantage in that sort of weather. You were worried about getting the ball up in the wind because it could go anywhere, but if you hit a good tee shot you at least had a decent club into the green.
"The course is actually very sheltered, there are few holes where you get the full brunt of the wind. If we were playing any other golf course we'd all be sitting in the clubhouse looking out at it. It's very playable in extreme weather."
As for the chance to win the Irish Open Harrington said: “It is my Open, my national Championship. I believe it would be harder to win some other tournaments but this is number five and what I want to win. It means a lot to me that I’ll be out there tomorrow and the next day in a very important situation for me.
“It is a great opportunity for me to go out there and play tomorrow, and I know it’s something I know I want to win very badly. And it would be a great achievement for me if I could go out over the next two days knowing I want to win it so badly and yet play and behave like it’s a regular event and a regular normal day out.”
Wakefield held his own in the wind, which gusted up to 45 mph, by shooting a level par 72 to lie at two under par and only one stroke adrift of Harrington.
“Overall, I’m very pleased,” he said. “I would have taken level par when I set out. The only disappointing aspect of it was on the seventh, the par five, which was reachable in two. I had a go for it and perfect line, just leaked it right and caught the bank and went in the water. So dropped to the side and didn't get up and down which is disappointing. In reflection I should have aimed it further left and put it in the trap and made sure I didn't make any stupid mistakes. But it's all part of it and level par is a good score.”
Backström was one of only 11 players top break par on a day when only seven finished in the red figures after 36 holes.
“It was extremely difficult,” said the Swede. “The course is not playing that long but it is blowing a gale and the rough is so tough. The sheltered holes are not playing easy as, if you hit the ball above the trees, it can go anywhere. I played away from the pin a lot today and tried to make par as par is a good score out there. I am extremely happy to be on the leaderboard now.”
The cut fell at seven over par 151, the second highest cut of the year after the Masters Tournament at Augusta National, where the axe fell at eight over par.