Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen claimed the outright lead after a near faultless 4 under par round of 67 at The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down Golf Club. In conditions more like March than May the cold winds and temperature to match kept much of the field at bay although the different direction of the wind did give a lot of scoring possibilities over the opening holes. All those under par are still in with a shout with 6 shots covering the top 11 players. The main contenders going into the Final Round are definitely Maximilian Kieffer (who shot a new course record of 6 under par 66), Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Tyrrell Hatton, Bernd Wiesberger & Richie Ramsay. It is not quite the Rory v Rickie shoot-out that spectators and sponsors alike probably hoped for but the lads at the top of the leaderboard deserve all the adulation after battling hard for 54 holes.
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Kjeldsen started immaculately, having begun the day tied for the lead with 5 other players, with an opening birdie followed by two more on 5 & 6 to go out in 33 (3 under par). 3 more birdies followed on 11, 12 & 13 and the Dane got to 9 under par and looked to be compiling what could have been an unassailable lead. Late bogeys on 17 and 18 took the wind out of his sails but a 2 shot lead is still something to very much cling onto over the closing 18 holes. Most of the leading contenders fared well over the opening holes too with Ramsay starting with an eagle while the last 4 out on the course were an eclectic score of 5 under for the 1st hole!
The possibility of an Irish champion at this year’s Irish Open is unlikely now with Padraig Harrington toiling badly, especially on the greens late on, while Paul McGinley, Shane Lowry & Simon Thornton managed solid rounds of Level par to finish on 3, 4 and 5 over respectively after 54 holes. Padraig is tied with Thornton after 3 rounds with his 78 today. Graeme McDowell fared best of the Irish today with a 2-under par 69 and lies tied with McGinley on 3 over. Darren Clarke is 6 over after a 1 over par 72 today. It looks like we will have to wait at least another year for an Irish winner, can’t have everything I suppose!
Rickie Fowler looked to have played himself back into contention with an eagle on 16 but finishing 8-8 has definitely put paid to his chances, the Players Champion sits on 5 over par. Another of the big names got on slightly better, Luke Donald shooting a 1 over par 72 to finish on 1 under. He still has a chance but needs a fast start unless Kjeldsen and the other leading contenders come back to him. The Englishman has shown some very encouraging form of late and although he may not lift The Irish Open trophy tomorrow he will be delighted by his showing so far this week.
So it’s still all to play for at Royal County Down tomorrow. With some 40 km/h winds forecast it promises to be another very testing day on the links, it’ll be a fun watch for all us amateurs out there and I expect the whiskey tent (assuming there’s one open up there) to be a very busy place this evening and tomorrow!