By Brian Keogh
Rory McIlroy believes he can still contend for the Estoril Portuguese Open after signing off with an eagle three at sun-scorched Oitavos Dunes.
The teenager, who turns 19 next month, rolled in a 20 footer at the par-five seventh for a 67 that left him tied with Damien McGrane on six-under par.
McIlroy and McGrane are eight shots adrift of leader Gregory Bourdy of France, who added a 65 to his course record equalling 63 to head the field by two strokes on 14 under par from Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño with compatriot Thomas Levet just a shot further back on 11 under.
But McIlroy is trying to convince himself that a maiden tour victory is not out of the question, providing his lukewarm putter gets red-hot over the next two days.
“I know Greg Bourdy is 14 under, but I am in there,” McIlroy said. “If I can go out tomorrow and shoot something in the mid 60s, I will be right back in this.”
It might be wishful thinking by McIlroy, whose tally of 29 putts included his ninth three-putt in his last six rounds and a string of missed opportunities.
McGrane is suffering from back spasms but that didn’t stop him from finishing birdie-eagle for a 69 with Paul McGinley a shot further back on five-under par after a 68 that was marred by a lost ball which led to double bogey five at the par-three 14th.
“I have been struggling with back trouble for the last few days,” said McGrane, “ I am in agony with it and even the daily physiotherapy is bloody torture.”
The Kells man was two under for the day after nine holes but bogeyed the 18th and three putted the third and fifth to drop two more shots before repairing the damage with that sensational finish.
“I was struggling to make it happen today and the birdie-eagle finish was a nice way to do it,” he said. “The putter has been cold for me recently. Even when I hit good putts the ball seems to stay out. My game feels close enough but the bottom line is that the scores have to add up.”
McGinley had a better day on the greens but was left to rue a double bogey on his seventh hole, where his ball disappeared in deep sand just yards off the narrow 14th green.
“The double bogey was a big body blow,” McGinley said. “I missed the green to the right with a six-iron and never saw it again. The sand is only five or six yards off the green. I didn’t play as well as I did yesterday but I putted better.”
Set to miss next week's US Masters for the first time since his debut in 1998, Darren Clarke didn’t putt any better as he had 35 putts in a one under par 70 that left him on four under par.
Clarke said: “I just kept two-putting every green and it’s frustrating. I don’t grind to sneak in and make cuts. That’s not me at all. But unfortunately, that’s what’s happening at the moment.
“I am fine from tee to green but I am two-putting and not getting any momentum up the leaderboard. It is just a very, very frustrating period because I am working hard and I feel that I an doing all the right things but I am not winning the battle with the game at the moment.”
Gary Murphy was three-under par for the tournament after an eagle three at the 16th (his ninth) but bogeyed three of his last four holes to miss the cut by a stroke on one under after a 71 with Peter Lawrie three shots outside the two-under par mark after a 71.