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McIlroy avoids more weekend woe

ESPN staff
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Rory McIlroy proved he can handle windy conditions on a links course © PA Photos
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Rory McIlroy avoided falling into the trap of a fifth missed cut in six starts with a 69 at the Irish Open on Friday.

The world No. 2, playing in his native Northern Ireland, moved to five-under overall at Royal Portrush. He is in a share of 17th; the top 65 and ties go through to the final 36 holes.

Playing in his final event before the Open Championship next month at Royal Lytham & St Annes, McIlroy will be glad of the chance to get four completed rounds under his belt.

He shot a 61 at Portrush as a 16-year-old - but, at the first staging of the event in Northern Ireland since 1953, he has largely been below his best in front of an expectant home crowd.

Starting on the back nine on Friday, he birdied the par-five tenth, as well as the par-fours at 12 and 16, with one bogey before reaching the turn. That was a promising platform for the Ulsterman, but he could not finish his round with much of a flourish, signing for a one-under front nine.

Nonetheless, despite having previously criticised links golf, he proved he can navigate windy conditions by battling hard in County Antrim, which is sure to serve him well at the Open.

Meanwhile, Darren Clarke, who will be defending the title at Royal Lytham, used the familiarity of the surroundings - he owns a house close to Portrush - to propel him to a 69 (four-under overall). The Ulsterman's season has mostly been a miserable one, so this was a welcome turnaround: he played the back nine in three-under, then the front nine in level par, with two bogeys and two birdies.

Lorenzo Gagli, the world No. 211 from Italy, was the clubhouse leader at ten-under midway through day two, having posted a 66 - but was eventually overtaken by Frenchman Gregory Bourdy (who reached 12-under) and England's Mark Foster (11-under).

Irishman Padraig Harrington repeated his solid opening round to stay firmly in contention at ten-under while the fourth high-profile home major champion in the field, Graeme McDowell, clawed his way back up the leaderboard with a round of 68 to sit five-under.

The news was not so good for Keegan Bradley, however - the US PGA champion missing the cut despite a second round 71, as he picked up some links course experience ahead of his Open debut next month.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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