Grégory Bourdy’s decision to seek the help of Open Champion Darren Clarke before the start of The Irish Open at Royal Portrush paid dividends, as the Frenchman moved into a one shot lead.
Bourdy shares management companies with the reigning Open Champion, and that proved a useful connection on Tuesday when he joined him for a practice round.
“I saw him on the tee and asked if it was possible to share a game,” said the 30 year old from Bordeaux. “He is with the same manager, so I think that helped to get the right answer.
“Darren has been great with me. He gave me a lot of advice, and maybe that gave me some confidence for the week.”
He needed some. Bourdy has not had a top ten finish all season, and is down at 112th place in The Race to Dubai and 175th in the Official World Golf Ranking – precisely 100 places below where he was 12 months ago.
Asked what was the best advice Clarke offered, Bourdy replied: “I’m going to keep this for me!
“It was good for the lines on the tee shots. After just two or three times, you can see better to know exactly the way you have to play.”
Joint overnight leader with Indian Jeev Milkha Singh, Bourdy eagled the long second hole and, at six under par for the first ten holes, was three clear of the field.
Bogeys did follow on the 11th and 14th holes, the two par threes on the back nine, but he holed from 20 feet for birdie at the long 17th.
That left the three-time European Tour winner one ahead of England’s Mark Foster at the halfway stage of the €2million event.
Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington – one of only two home winners, along with Shane Lowry, of The Irish Open in the last 30 years – has given himself the chance to do it again.
Without a European Tour title since the last of his three Majors in 2008, but eighth in The Masters Tournament and fourth in the US Open Championship two weeks ago, Harrington is on ten under par after two rounds of 67.
While local heroes Rory McIlroy, Clarke and Graeme McDowell are all still around for the weekend – for Clarke it was a first cut made all year – they would all pay a lot for Harrington’s position.
The 40 year old, who trails Bourdy by two shots, is not exactly oozing confidence yet, however.
“I’m playing a game I’m not familiar with,” he said. “I’m hitting far more fairways and greens than normal, and I know I could play even better if I trusted it a bit more.
“I’ve shortened my swing significantly, and I didn’t really put myself in any trouble. It was as stress-free a 67 as you could get in these conditions.”
Second placed Foster also shot a round of 67, while Foster’s fellow Englishman Paul Waring – playing his first event for over a year following wrist surgery – had a 65 to join Harrington and Italian Lorenzo Gagli (66) in a share of third place.
Harrington won the tournament five years ago, won his first Major at Carnoustie two months later and the following season added two more.
He would dearly love the same to happen, and does not rule it out.
“I know they are around the corner, and they tend to come like buses – when you get one a few more arrive very quickly.”
In the first Irish Open north of the border since 1953, McIlroy and McDowell both stand on five under par, with Clarke one further back. Both need something special just to have a shot at the title.
Clarke was not about to celebrate surviving a cut, because that is not what he is about – but he knew it was important.
Three weeks before the start of his Open Championship title defence at Royal Lytham, the 43 year old said: “I’m just not tournament sharp, and it’s important to have more competitive rounds.”
He has taken a month off to rest a groin strain and, coming as it did after a testing run, he said: “The break was massive. I needed to get away, and the injury was a bit of a blessing in disguise.
“My golf’s not been that bad, but my scoring’s been poor. I’ve been travelling all round the world trying to fulfil my role as Open Champion, but now I’m refreshed.”
While Clarke is also playing next week’s Alstom Open de France, McIlroy is in his last event before The Open Championship and, having missed the cut in four of his last five starts, Portrush took on real meaning for him too.
He is still not yet back to his brilliant best, but said: “The last two days have probably been the best two ball-striking rounds I’ve had in a while.
“I'm definitely close. I need something around 65 or 64 to get into contention, but I’ve shot low scores here before.” A record 61, indeed – at the age of just 16.