By Brian Keogh
Cool kid Rory McIlroy is ready to set the Irish Open alight with a weekend title charge at Adare Manor.
The boy wonder, 19, is just four shots just four behind leader Michael Lorenzo-Vera on two-under par after a battling 72.
And he feels ready to put the hammer down on moving day and join Irish hopes Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington in the title chase.
Delighted to fight back from three-over par after three holes, McIlroy said: “Tomorrow is moving day. And I’ve played well in third rounds this year.
“I think with all the Irish guys doing so well in the last few weeks, it just adds to the atmosphere and the excitement of the tournament.
“McGinley and Clarke are up there, I’m not that far behind and Harrington is up there too. There’s a few Irish guys in contention and I’m sure there will be big crowds at the weekend that will create a great atmosphere.”
Nearly 13,000 fans packed the Limerick venue on another sultry day as Clarke hit a 69 to trail Lorenzo-Vera by just three shots on three-under par.
But McIlroy looks like a player who can go low after he showed maturity beyond his years to join 69-shooter McGinley on two-under par - one shot better than defending champion Harrington.
Back to one over for the tournament after a bogey at the second and a double bogey at the third, McIlroy played the next 15 holes in three under par to remain in the hunt
He showed his class at the finish too - firing a 206-yard six-iron to the heart of the 18th green and then shaving the hole with his eagle putt.
Happy with his position, he said: “I’m surprised I’m only four off the lead. But I am happy to be where I am and if I can play well tomorrow and get myself into contention, I’ll be very happy.
“On this course, I just need to hang in there and not make too many mistakes. If you do that you’ll be very close.”
Like Harrington, who holed almost nothing in a 71 to trail by five, McIlroy struggled to read the greens.
But he’s happy that the championship will be a battle of ball-strikers instead of a putting contest like last week’s Italian Open.
He said: “I think I play better on tough golf courses. I wouldn’t say it’s a monster. It’s nowhere near US Open tough but you have to drive it well and put it in the fairway to have a chance of hitting it close.”
Clarke is looking good on three under par after a solid 69 but warned that his game still needs work.
Asked about his title chances, Clarke said: “There is still a long way to go before we think about that. A 69 is a very good sign, so there’s a lot of positives. I want to get up there and contend this week.”
Defending champion Harrington had a frustrating day on the greens before burning the edge of the hole with a 100-foot eagle chance at the 18th.
And he hopes that patience will pay off over the weekend after racking up 32 putts yesterday in a round that took nearly five hours to complete.
After tapping in for a 71 that leaves him five shots adrift, Harrington said: “I can definitely still win this. I was greatly encouraged birdieing the last to be only five behind.
“I thought eight or nine under might be leading so I’m positive. If you work on the averages, I am going to make a few birdies over the next few rounds because I haven’t made too many so far.
“I definitely got frustrated on the golf course out there. I had a lot of chances. I seemed to be hitting the ball to 10 feet and 15 feet all the time and it is a bit furstrating that the putts weren’t going in.
“I just have to stay patient and hope it turns. There are 36 holes to go, which is a long way, and five shots is not that much.”
Just six of the 21 Irish contenders made the cut with recent tournament winners Graeme McDowell and Damien McGrane missing out.
McGrane (72) failed by a shot after a poor week on the greens but it was driving that cost McDowell.
After a 76 left him two shots outside the mark, McDowell said: “Technically the golf swing wasn’t there this week. I feel great but I just drove the ball terribly.
“I am disappointed not to be around for the weekend. But that’s golf, isn’t it. I started to hit it well the last six or seven holes so there is light at the end of the tunnel.”