No-one is happier than Rory McIlroy to see Darren Clarke lead the British Open – but that won’t stop him chasing down his long time mentor in Sunday’s final round.
As Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell headed for home after failing to make the cut, Clarke and McIlroy flew the flag for Irish golf at Sandwich.
The 42-year-old Clarke is joint leader with Lucas Glover after a second successive 68 left him on four under for the tournament.
McIlroy, playing in his first event since winning the US Open at Congressional three weeks ago, is four shots off the pace after moving onto level par heading into Saturday’s third round.
The two Ulstermen could play together in the final round on Sunday and McIlroy quipped: “I think I’d know what to say to put him off!
“Seriously though, it is great for Darren to see him up there. I am delighted for him but I’m still looking to be in contention come Sunday.
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“It’s brilliant. This sort of golf really suits his game. He’s grown up on links and he likes to play different shots.
“It’s the sort of week where you’ve got to just manage your game very well and he’s good at doing that, hitting different shots and changing the trajectory. It’s good to see him up there.
“He’s doing a bit better than me at the moment but I’m planning on changing that.”
US PGA champion Martin Kaymer and overnight joint leader Thomas Bjorn are among a four-strong group a shot behind Clarke and Glover as the cut, at plus three, cost Harrington and McDowell a weekend’s work after their finish on four and five over respectively.
McIlroy is still in contention to become the youngest British Open champion since 1893 after his one under par 69 on Friday moved him back to level par after the opening two rounds.
“It was a grind,” McIlroy admitted after the second round. “Even though it was sunny and it looked nice out there, it was very tricky. The course is playing a lot firmer, a lot of cross winds, and to shoot something in the 60s today I’m very pleased with.
“It would have been nicer to be a couple better, but I’ll take that going into the weekend. I’m very happy with my position and within striking distance of the leaders.
“It’s the most open Open I’ve seen in a long time. I think it’ll be exciting to be a part of and it’ll be exciting to watch over the next two days.
“I’m very happy with my position going into the weekend. I’m happy with where I’m at. If I get off to a decent start on Saturday I’m right in it.”
Leaders at Minus 4
Minus 4 – Darren Clarke
Level Par – Rory McIlroy
Plus Four – Padraig Harrington
Plus Five – Graeme McDowell