KILLARNEY, Ireland – Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke crashed out of the Irish Open, but his fellow countrymen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell both comfortably made the cut after Friday’s second round.
Germany’s Marcel Siem seized the lead thanks to a stunning 16th-hole eagle on the 519-yard (474-meter) par 5, followed by a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th, as dusk approached at Killarney. The unheralded Siem, who has won a lone European Tour tournament seven years ago, carded a second consecutive 66 to move to 10-under.
India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, the first-round leader after his 63, could only manage a 70 on Friday and shared second place – one stroke back – with Denmark’s Soeren Hansen after his 66. Spain’s Ignacio Garrido was alone in fourth on 8 under after a 65.
But the approximately 20,000 fans who filled the fairways were there to cheer Ireland’s stars from both sides of the border – several of whom either crashed out or flirted with an early exit.
Reigning U.S. Open champ McIlroy bagged three straight birdies from the 14th to 16th holes to break a long run of lackluster par play and finish with a 68 for a 4-under total of 138.
When asked if he’s confident of pulling off a win Sunday, the 22-year-old phenomenon from the Belfast suburb of Holywood was emphatic.
“I do, yeah,” he said. “If I get off to a good start tomorrow and post a number, then I feel I can give myself a good chance.”
However, McIlroy couldn’t quite let go of his sudden feud with U.S. golf commentator and former European pro, Jay Townsend, who on Thursday ticked off McIlroy by criticizing both him and his caddy, J.P. Fitzgerald.
After Townsend called McIlroy’s opening-day tactics “silly” and Fitzgerald’s management “shocking,” McIlroy sent him a message on Twitter calling Townsend “a failed golfer” who should “shut up.”
McIlroy said Friday that he had talked to his parents and manager about toning down his emotions, but was sticking by his harsh words for Townsend.
“I don’t really have any respect for the man,” he said of Townsend, who has been offering live fairway commentary for Irish broadcasters RTE.
“I have to stand up for J.P. because he’s the best man that I think I can have on my bag,” McIlroy said. “He’s taken me from 200th in the world to major champion and now fourth in the world.”
When asked whether he agreed with some commentators’ views that he was behaving like a spoiled brat, McIlroy played it safe.
“Well, I’m an only child. If that means I’m spoiled, I don’t know,” he said.
Townsend said he tried Friday to talk directly to McIlroy, through his manager, but was rebuffed.
McDowell, a fellow Ulsterman who won the U.S. Open last year, rapidly erased his opening-day tally of 1-over par by birdying the first two holes with precise approach shots. That “set the tone for the day,” he said.
He scored four more birdies in a 66 to join McIlroy on 4 under par.
But Clarke dropped four shots in the last eight holes to slump to 72 and 1-over par, just two weeks after the 42-year-old won his first major at the British Open. His final putt for par on the 18th stopped barely an inch short.
“I was trying, trying, trying and couldn’t get anything going. I couldn’t buy a putt,” Clarke said with a serene smile.
Clarke, who sparked lengthy debate in Ireland over his post-British Open boozing, arrived in Killarney sporting a hacking cough and sniffly cold that he attributed to “self-inflicted man flu’.”
However, Clarke said he didn’t regret a single pint or all-night party since his breakthrough victory in Sandwich.
“I’m not physically tired, no. Just mentally tired,” he said.
Ireland’s out-of-form Padraig Harrington also missed the cut after finishing 3 over. He appeared visibly distressed as putt after putt rolled narrowly left or right.
Harrington, who won three majors in 2008 and 2009 but has struggled since, said his back-to-back double bogey and bogey on the 6th and 7th holes “knocked the stuffing out of me.”
The Dubliner said his putting was only barely off. “It was a good day on the greens,” he insisted. “They didn’t drop, but they’ll drop someday.”