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Irish Open: A brief guide to the final day challengers as Irish hopes are all but over

By Gareth Hanna

There are nine players within four shots of the lead and the Irish Open title hangs in the balance going into the final day.

Add to that the beating sun that's given me a "nose like Rudolph" (thank-you Ruth Gorman) and the crowds that have finally tipped the 20,000 mark, it's all set up perfectly for a nerve-jangling finish on the 18th green come late Sunday afternoon.

There is one caveat, however. Scroll down the leaderboard in search of an Irish name and you'll nearly have sore fingers before you get to leading local light Padraig Harrington, nine shots behind the lead.

None of the five Irish players who made the cut could get the ball into the 18th cup in less than 70 blows on Saturday. On a day when 23 players did manage a sub-70 score, that was a crushing blow to the 23,208 fans who turned out to traverse the dunes.

ROUND FOUR TEE TIMES: Irish Open: Day Three as it happened: Round Four tee times, scores and updates as we followed Harrington, Dunne, Lowry, Im and the rest on moving day at Portstewart

At least they didn't lure us into any doomed excitement. Only Harrington could avoid an over-par front nine and he was only level on a day he needed to go low to make up ground.

But there's little sign that the lack of a local challenge will dampen Sunday spirits (the forecasted downpours might - but I'm hoping if I don't mention them, they won't materialise).

And so, what of the challengers?

Daniel Im -17

Im has made just two bogeys in 54 holes of golf - all but flawless. That would suggest that the 32 year-old who has just one Challenge Tour and two Canadian Tour wins to his name so far is not in the mood for collapse. Anybody who backed the rank outsider at the start faces a nervous day that could end with financial delight.

Jon Rahm -17

Perhaps, in the absence of the locals, Rahm can boast the fans' favourite tag. The Portstewart supporters have taken to the 6 ft 2 inch Spaniard as if he were one of their own. If he can repeat his Farmers Insurance victory this week, he will be fully adopted as a North Coast son.

Benjamin Hebert -16

A double bogey six on the ninth has, in the end, cost the Frenchman the 54 hole lead. The 2007 European Amateur has played in just one major - the 2008 Open - so perhaps he'd settle now for one of the three qualification spots for the Royal Birkdale championship. But the lure of a maiden European Tour win is close for the 30 year old.

Hideto Tanihara -15

A fact that many people wouldn't remember - Tanihara tied fifth in the 2007 Open Championship. He's also another player to experience just two drop shots so far this week. Will that consistency prove the key to unlocking Sunday success?

Julien Quesne -14

Tying the lowest score of the week with a Saturday 64, Quesne birdied six of his last eight holes to blast his way up 25 places through the field and well into contention. If momentum is key, then the two-time European Tour victor is the man to back.

Scott Hend -13

There is also a strong case to be made for this Australian, who hasn't suffered a bogey since the ninth on Friday. He could be beginning to forget that it feels like. He also fired in a 64 on Saturday, helped along by an eagle on 13. Also a two-time European Tour winner, he's all but Quesne's ditto, just with one shot more to make up.

Justin Rose -13

Rose's 66 was another flawless display of golf - only because of the type of up-and-downs he displayed on 17, reportedly out of a divot, up the hill and in to tap-in range. The Olympic champion boasts the best CV of the top nine, but what will that count for?

Oliver Fisher -13

Playing with Rose, fellow Englishman Fisher had a relatively boring 70 on Saturday - parring 11 of his last 12 holes and throwing in a birdie just to climb within three of the lead. Another contender with few professional wins, one on the European Tour in 2011, victory would be special for the 28 year-old.

Ryan Fox -13

The final of the top nine, Ryan Fox has had a mixed weekend with the All Blacks unexpectedly failing to tame the Lions. His dad's a selector and won't have enjoyed the Eden Park draw, but a win for his boy would soon improve the mood. Another 30 year-old without a European Tour victory so far, he'll be keen to put that right sooner rather than later.

- And now that we've gone through all that, get the money on somebody totally different coming up through the field to snatch an unlikely success.

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