McIlroy seeks midas touch as Open countdown begins
Erik van Rooyen of South Africa reacts after his putt on the 18th hole during the third round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin Golf Club on July 7, 2018 in Donegal, Ireland. Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Erik van Rooyen of South Africa reacts after his putt on the 18th hole during the third round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin Golf Club on July 7, 2018 in Donegal, Ireland. Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy is facing a race against time to find his putting touch for The Open.

But he's praying he might have found the solution after another frustrating day on the greens in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

The Holywood ace (29) used the blade 31 times in a level par 72 that ended his hopes of a title charge in Ballyliffin.

But after taking 97 putts so far this week — just three less than he needed to roar to victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March — he believes a "care less" attitude and an alignment tweak can still pay off in time to challenge for a fifth major in Scotland.

He said:"I got on the mirror the last couple of days and realised that I was aiming a little bit further left than I thought I was.

"The bad putts were going left so at least knowing that, and knowing what I need to do to start the ball on line, it's been a good week for that in terms of what I need to do going forward. 

"It's not going to disappear overnight. I'm going to have to work on it for a few days. 

"But that's why next week will be nice to hit some putts and to get a bit of work in, and hopefully go to Carnoustie a little more comfortable with that part of the game."

The world No 8 is 13 shots behind the unheralded South African Erik van Rooyen, who added a six-under 66 to his second round 65 to lead by four shots from Swede Joakim Lagergren and big-hitting Kiwi Ryan Fox on 14-under par.

Danny Willett is five behind after a 69 with Scot Russell Knox a further shot back.

But it's a bridge too far for McIlroy, who's just looking for a low closing round and some Open momentum now.

McIlroy said: "It's tough walking off the course with even par when you've given yourself loads of chances.

"You know, I felt like if I had of shot something at least in the 68, 67 range today I would have given myself a decent chance tomorrow but I'll just try to round off the week with a good round tomorrow."

Admitting it was difficult not to let frustration get the better of him, he added: "It's tough. I think it's almost to the point where you need to start caring less about whether the putt goes in or not and just make a good stroke. 

"If it goes in, great, and if it doesn't, it's not really a different result than you've had the last few holes. It's almost just a little more freedom in it.

"I felt I put some better strokes on it today. My speed, I felt like the greens with the rain in the middle of the round slowed up and I just struggled to get the ball to the hole.

"I'm just sort of stuck in neutral this week but hopefully I can finish off with a good one tomorrow."

McIlroy had just 100 putts as he closed with a sizzling 64 to win at Bay Hill on March 18 for his first win in 18 months.

Asked how he'd do if he could reproduce that kind of form on a regular basis, he said:  "If I had a hundred putts every week I played and hit the ball halfway decent, I'd win every week."

He started positively, making a 12 footer from just off the first green for birdie but failed to get up and down after overshooting the second and was hit and miss with the putter from there.

He looked exasperated to finally drain a 13-footer for a birdie at the 16th but despite a bogey at the last, he believes he's starting to get a feel for links greens again and reckons his ball-striking is Open Championship ready.

Tied for 33rd, he said: "It's good to get a week like this, at least to familiarise yourself with what's going to happen.

"Tee-to-green has been really good. The work I've done the last couple of weeks has started to bed in, which is really nice.

"I've got one more competitive start tomorrow before The Open Championship and sign off with a good one hopefully and at least give myself some momentum going into there.

"I haven't played links golf in a while, so it's nice to get the feel of it again and I'm sure I'll play some links golf next week on my week off and get ready for Carnoustie.

"I could take my tee-to-green game straight to The Open in a couple weeks' time and be happy where that is."

As for the title race, England's Andy Sullivan took advantage of fine morning conditions to fire a seven-under 65 but he still ended the day eight shots behind 28-year old Van Rooyen, who is seeking his maiden European Tour win.

The powerful 6'3" Johannesburg giant began the day tied for the lead with Fox and Frenchman Matthieu Pavon on eight-under.

But he soon streaked away, racing to the turn in six-under 29 as he made birdies at the first, second and fourth and three more in a row from the seventh before finishing with nine straight pars.

Admitting he'll be nervous today, Van Rooyen said: "Obviously I would love to get a win. But you know, that's 24 hours from now.

"It's obviously a professional sport and nerves, they do play a part,

"But that's part of it. It's nothing strange. You shouldn't not want them. 

"I feel like when you are a bit nervous, it just means that you're ready to go."

Erik Van Rooyen

“I wasn't very much aware of my score or the situation on the front nine to be honest. You sometimes get in a groove as a golfer where things just happen and you hit great shots and great putts and that's what happened. It wasn't different on the back nine. It's just different holes, different conditions, different everything. I still played great. Wish I could birdie the two par 5s but I didn't. Looking back, all in all, I think it was a good day. There's 18 holes left to navigate and that's going to be my job tomorrow. Obviously I would love to get a win. But you know, that's 24 hours from now so we will see what happens.”

Joakim Lagergren

“I think the conditions stayed great all day. I played well on the back nine, as well, but feels like I left a lot of shots out there. Didn't hole the putts. It should have been a few better, I think but I’m still hitting the ball well. I need to produce more of the same stuff tomorrow and just hole a few more putts. I know I've got a low one in there.”

Ryan Fox

“It was a little bit of a frustrating today to be honest. I felt like I drove it really, really well. Gave myself a lot of chances and the putts didn't drop. I had a couple poor wedge shots, as well, which didn't help things but use that word, patience. I stayed pretty patient and made a couple of birdies coming in to turn it round. Erik looked like he was going to run away with it after that front nine, and I was scrapping around that front nine a little bit. Probably happy that maybe he got a bit colder on the back nine and I picked up a couple of shots just to give me a chance. Going to have to do something pretty special tomorrow to win this thing I think.”

Danny Willett

“The weather was a little bit different to what we've kind of had all week and a couple of poor swings early on. But then yeah, I dug in nicely, which was been nice. Turned it around quickly to have a good back nine. A couple of the long-range putts were obviously bonuses. It was nice to see a couple of those go in. Just keep the momentum going, especially when you look at the leaderboard and obviously after a few holes, we were a hell of a long way back. There's still a lot to play for. When you've got such a big lead, it's a tricky place to be. So yeah, just have to wait and see.”

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, Ballyliffin GC (Glashedy Links, Par 72)

Today’s tee-times

  1. 06:45 Romero, Choi; 

  2. 06:54 Bourdy, Dantorp;

  3. 07:03 Brooks, Manassero; 

  4. 07:12 Waring, Dredge; 

  5. 07:21 Elvira, Ormsby; 

  6. 07:30 Wattel, Gouveia; 

  7. 07:39 Dodt, Guerrier; 

  8. 07:53 Bjørn, Ramsay; 

  9. 08:02 Larrazábal, Pieters; 

  10. 08:11 Aguilar, Paratore; 

  11. 08:20 Jamieson, Morrison; 

  12. 08:29 Porteous, Otaegui; 

  13. 08:38 McDowell, Dunne; 

  14. 08:47 Lowry, Thornton; 

  15. 09:01 Kjeldsen, Southgate; 

  16. 09:10 Aiken, Wang; 

  17. 09:19 Hanson, Warren; 

  18. 09:28 Ford, Bland; 

  19. 09:37 Suri, Wood; 

  20. 09:46 Rai, McIlroy; 

  21. 10:00 Stone, Horsey; 

  22. 10:09 Drysdale, Hebert; 

  23. 10:18 Nixon, Chesters; 

  24. 10:27 Fernandez Castaño, Colsaerts; 

  25. 10:36 Jaidee, Sterne; 

  26. 10:45 Rock, Fichardt; 

  27. 10:59 Bezuidenhout, Burmester; 

  28. 11:09 Miyazato, Björk; 

  29. 11:19 Ilonen, Fisher; 

  30. 11:29 Saddier, Horsfield; 

  31. 11:39 Coetzee, Olesen; 

  32. 11:49 Lombard, Frittelli; 

  33. 12:04 Uihlein, Campillo;

  34. 12:14 Sullivan, Rahm; 

  35. 12:24 Pavon, Westwood; 

  36. 12:34 Jacquelin, Knox; 

  37. 12:44 Willett ,Fox;

  38. 12:54 Van Rooyen, Lagergren

Detailed scores

202 E Van Rooyen (RSA) 71 65 66, 

206 J Lagergren (Swe) 69 68 69, R Fox (Nzl) 67 69 70, 

207 D Willett (Eng) 68 70 69, 

208 R Knox (Sco) 71 69 68, 

209 L Westwood (Eng) 68 71 70, M Pavon (Fra) 68 68 73, R Jacquelin (Fra) 71 70 68, 

210 A Sullivan (Eng) 73 72 65, P Uihlein (USA) 70 70 70, Z Lombard (RSA) 70 68 72, J Rahm (Esp) 74 69 67, J Campillo (Esp) 70 71 69, 

211 T Olesen (Den) 72 69 70, G Coetzee (RSA) 71 71 69, D Frittelli (RSA) 69 74 68, 

212 S Horsfield (Eng) 69 69 74, 

213 A Saddier (Fra) 68 76 69, C Bezuidenhout (RSA) 72 68 73, O Fisher (Eng) 74 68 71, Y Miyazato (Jpn) 69 72 72, A Björk (Swe) 69 73 71, M Ilonen (Fin) 70 72 71, D Burmester (RSA) 71 70 72, 

214 R Sterne (RSA) 75 68 71, N Colsaerts (Bel) 72 70 72, A Chesters (Eng) 68 73 73, R Rock (Eng) 68 77 69, T Jaidee (Tha) 73 70 71, D Fichardt (RSA) 72 72 70, G Fernandez - Castaño (Esp) 71 71 72, M Nixon (Eng) 72 69 73, 

215 J Suri (USA) 76 67 72, B Stone (RSA) 74 70 71, B Hebert (Fra) 72 73 70, C Wood (Eng) 70 71 74, A Rai (Eng) 72 71 72, D Horsey (Eng) 74 69 72, Rory McIlroy (Nir) 70 73 72, D Drysdale (Sco) 76 69 70, 

216 J Wang (Kor) 74 70 72, C Ford (Eng) 73 72 71, T Aiken (RSA) 71 73 72, M Southgate (Eng) 72 71 73, M Warren (Sco) 70 74 72, S Kjeldsen (Den) 70 73 73, Simon Thornton (Irl) 72 70 74, A Bland (Aus) 76 69 71, Shane Lowry (Irl) 72 70 74, P Hanson (Swe) 71 73 72, 

217 R Paratore (Ita) 75 67 75, H Porteous (RSA) 73 71 73, J Morrison (Eng) 73 70 74, S Jamieson (Sco) 69 74 74, Graeme McDowell (Nir) 71 73 73, A Otaegui (Esp) 69 74 74, Paul Dunne (Irl) 73 72 72, F Aguilar (Chi) 72 71 74, 

218 P Larrazábal (Esp) 74 71 73, T Bjørn (Den) 73 71 74, T Pieters (Bel) 73 72 73, R Ramsay (Sco) 70 74 74, 

219 P Waring (Eng) 71 71 77, R Wattel (Fra) 72 72 75, J Guerrier (Fra) 76 69 74, N Elvira (Esp) 69 74 76, R Gouveia (Por) 73 71 75, A Dodt (Aus) 74 71 74, W Ormsby (Aus) 70 73 76, 

220 M Manassero (Ita) 72 72 76, J Dantorp (Swe) 72 71 77, B Dredge (Wal) 72 73 75, D Brooks (Eng) 74 71 75, G Bourdy (Fra) 71 73 76, 

221 J Choi (Kor) 69 74 78, 

223 A Romero (Arg) 70 75 78