Rory McIlroy seems determined to make Luke Donald’s job easier for the Ryder Cup later this month.
Not only will the Europe captain be thrilled that, on Saturday, the world No 2 calmed fears about his recent back complaint with a 66 at the K Club that thrust him into contention at the Horizon Irish Open, but McIlroy also added a bit of clarity to one of the Europe captain’s main dilemmas by suggesting he is ready to partner countryman Shane Lowry at Rome.
McIlroy suffered muscle spasms on his last outing, the Tour Championship in Atlanta, two weeks ago, and arrived in Dublin acknowledging that he had barely practised since and was “not fully recovered – I’m probably 90 per cent.”
However, with a six-under effort that featured birdies on the last two holes, McIlroy reduced his eight-shot deficit at the start of the third round to only two going into the Sunday denouement, as he attempts to win his national open for the second time at the famous Dublin layout.
“Last night, I thought I was maybe too far behind and out of it but I’ve played a really good round to get myself back in it,” McIlroy, on 11-under, said.
German Hulry Long (70) leads the way on 13-under, one clear of Englishman Jordan Smith (73). The Irish crowds will turn out in huge numbers to cheer on McIlroy and Shane Lowry, who is on eight-under after a 72.
It has been a fine effort by Lowry, especially in the wake of the controversy created by his wildcard selection on Monday. Donald was slated for picking the 2019 Open champion – with only one top-10 all year – over Pole Adrian Meronk, who has won three times in the last 16 months including at Marco Simone, the Ryder Cup’s host venue, four months ago.
Donald is an unashamed admirer of Lowry’s ball-striking, short game and personality. And the 36-year-old’s affinity with McIlroy, his former teammate in the Irish amateur team, might also have been a factor in his choice.
McIlroy partnered with Lowry in the last match and although they lost heavily in the Friday fourballs, he clearly would like the chance to tee it up with his boyhood friend again. Particularly as McIlroy’s two other more recent partners – Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia – will be absent because of their ineligibility due to the LIV Golf row.
“Absolutely yeah,” McIlroy told Golf Digest. “Poults and Sergio were passionate and had so much energy … Having someone like that beside you and knowing they were going to do something at the right time; that something was always going to happen. I definitely get that feeling with Shane.”