Rory McIlroy was again hindered by putting woes as a one-over-par 73 left him six off the clubhouse pace in the second round of the Irish Open.
As on Thursday, McIlroy’s long game was largely impeccable but a five-foot birdie effort on the sixth was his only successful putt beyond tap-in range.
To compound his frustration, the 29-year-old bogeyed the final two holes.
Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren was the lunchtime leader on seven under after a 68, which left him a shot clear.
England’s Danny Willett and South African Zander Lombard were Lagergren’s closest challengers.
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2016 Masters champion Willett continued his recent improved form following a post-Augusta triumph slump as he fired a steady 70 while Lombard carded a second-round 68.
Lee Westwood was in the clubhouse on five under after a 71 with Scotland’s Russell Knox one further back after a 69 although New Zealand’s first-round leader Ryan Fox and Padraig Harrington were among the afternoon starters.
Fox, son of New Zealand rugby great Grant Fox, fired an opening 67 while 2007 Irish Open champion Harrington was in a seven-strong group a shot off the pace after the first round.
McIlroy hit by horrible horseshoe
Having started at the 10th, tournament host McIlroy’s day on the greens was summed by his 20-foot birdie effort on the 18th being denied by a horrible horseshoe despite a seemingly perfect pace.
“I definitely hit my best putt on the week on 18 this morning and it came straight back at me so that was nice,” said McIlroy with an ironic laugh.
Having missed seven putts inside 10 feet in Thursday’s opening 70, a number of McIlroy’s strokes appeared to lack conviction as he left a 20-foot eagle chance short on the 17th.
Then following his misfortune at the 18th, he left further birdie chances short on the next three holes before missing a 10-foot eagle chance at the par-five fourth after a splendid approach to the well-protected pin.
For the second day in succession, McIlroy found the deep bunker to the left of the par-three fifth and his initial failure to get out of the trap resulted in his second bogey of the round, after his earlier dropped shot at the 16th.
A delightful sand wedge to another tight front pin on six was converted but he bogeyed the eighth after running out of fairway on his tee shot before missing from 10 feet for par at the last when a wild drive was followed by carving his second shot into greenside rough.
Tournament host targets two closing 68s
Despite his disappointing finish, McIlroy still believes that heading into the weekend, he can repeat his 2016 triumph at the K Club.
“I’ve played well. I’ve hit the ball well from tee to green which is something I was struggling with the last couple of weeks so I’m more comfortable with my swing,” added the world number eight.
“A couple of loose shots coming in but overall, I’ve seen some positive signs.
“It does depend on what the guys do this afternoon but I’d say if I shot two 68s over the weekend, I don’t think I’d be too far away. Getting to double digits I think is a great target.”
Despite almost perfect weather conditions at the Donegal venue, Ballyliffin again was proving a tough test for the players with the pre-tournament predictions that 20-under-par or perhaps even lower could be the winning score on Sunday evening, now looking fanciful.