PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Frenchman Gregory Bourdy opened a one-shot lead in the second round of the Irish Open as Rory McIlroy edged his way back toward the leaderboard on Friday.
Bourdy had an eagle on his second hole and six birdies and three bogeys to move to 12-under 132 after a 67. Englishman Mark Foster also shot a 67 and was in second.
The Irish Open is being played in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1953, when it also was staged at Royal Portrush.
Former U.S. Open champion McIlroy climbed 29 places and into a tie for 24th at 139 with his 3-under 69 with five birdies and two bogeys on the Royal Portrush links course.
Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington moved into contention with a second straight 67 to sit two off the lead and part of a three-way tie for third.
Harrington had birdies on his first two holes and six birdies in all with a single bogey to climb six places and join England’s Paul Waring and Italy’s Lorenzo Gagli at 10 under.
PGA Champion Keegan Bradley missed the cut at his first tournament in Europe after a 1-under 71 on the second day to go with his 1-over 73 on Thursday for even par overall. Bradley started with a double-bogey 7 on No. 10, his first hole, and despite a run of four straight birdies after that, dropped three more shots to end his tournament early.
Bourdy was ahead by one at the halfway mark, but could have been clear by more after an eagle on No. 2 and four more birdies in his opening nine. He dropped two shots on the back nine, however.
Local favorites McIlroy and British Open champion Darren Clarke both shot 69, with Clarke finishing with a 20-foot putt for birdie to ensure he made the cut for the first time this season, one shot behind McIlroy. Another Northern Irish major winner, Graeme McDowell, was tied with McIlroy at 5 under.
McIlroy was watched by girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki after she made the trip from London following her first-round defeat at Wimbledon.
The No. 2-ranked McIlroy still wasn’t at his majestic best, but said he felt some improvement ahead of the weekend — and next month’s British Open.
”The last two days have probably been the best ball-striking rounds I’ve had for a while,” he said. ”I didn’t do much wrong and hopefully I can have a good weekend. I need something around 64 or 65 to get myself into contention, but I’ve shot low scores here before.”
Harrington, one of only two home winners of the Irish Open since 1982, has given himself the chance to do it again, however.
Without a European Tour win since the last of his three majors in 2008, but eighth in the Masters and fourth in the U.S. Open two weeks ago, he has posted two straight 67s.
“I’m playing a game I’m not familiar with,” he said. “I’m hitting far more fairways and greens than normal and I know I could play better if I trusted it a bit more.
“I’ve shortened my swing significantly and I didn’t really put myself in any trouble,” he explained. “It was as stress-free a 67 as you could get in these conditions.”
Harrington won the Irish Open five years ago, won his first major at Carnoustie two months later and the following season added two more majors. He would love the same to happen and he does not rule it out.
“I know they are around the corner and they tend to come like buses,” he said. “When you get one, a few more arrive very quickly.”
Bourdy is benefiting from a practice round with Clarke on Tuesday.
“I saw him on a tee and asked if it was possible to share a game,” said the 30-year-old from Bordeaux. “He is with the same manager, so I think that helped to get the right answer. Darren has been great with me. He gave me a lot of advice and maybe that gave me some confidence for the week.”
He needed some. Bourdy has not had a top-10 finish all season and is down at 112th on the Tour money list and 175th in the world — 100 places exactly below what he was 12 months ago.
Asked what was the best advice Clarke offered, he replied: “I’m going to keep this for me!
“It was good for the lines on the tee shots. After just two or three times you can see better to know exactly the way you have to play.”
Tied overnight with Jeev Milkha Singh, Bourdy eagled the long second and at 6 under for the first 10 holes was three clear of the field. Bogeys did follow on the 11th and 14th, the two par threes on the back nine, but he holed from 20 feet for birdie at the long 17th.
Clarke, of course, was not about to celebrate surviving a cut because that is not what he is about, but he knew it was important.
“I’m just not tournament sharp and it’s important to have more competitive rounds,” said Clarke, who has three weeks until the start of his Open title defense. He has taken a month off to rest a groin strain and coming as it did after a nightmare run he said: “The break was massive. I needed to get away and the injury was a bit of a blessing in disguise.
“My golf’s not been that bad, but my scoring’s been terrible,” he added. “I’ve been travelling all round the world trying to fulfil my role as Open champion, but now I’m refreshed.”