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Rory McIlroy still in hunt for an Open boost


Chasing: Rory McIlroy yesterday
Chasing: Rory McIlroy yesterday
Graeme McDowell

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy admitted he will need to reproduce the flying finish which gave him victory in the Canadian Open last month to win another national title in Scotland this weekend and tee him up for The Open at Royal Portrush next week.

McIlroy will start day three at the Scottish Open at Gulllane six shots behind joint overnight leaders, England's Lee Slattery, South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen, and Austria's Bernd Wiesberger.

A glut of low scoring saw the cut fall at five under par and result in early exits for McIlroy's playing partners Rickie Fowler and Robert MacIntyre.

Graeme McDowell will also be arriving early in hometown Portrush after missing the cut, despite going three shots better than his Friday 72, posting a 69.

"It looks like I am going to have to pick up the pace this weekend if I want to have a chance to win," said McIlroy, who shot rounds of 64 and 61 over the weekend in Ontario a month ago.

"But I did it in Canada and my game feels as good now as it did then."

The Scottish Open may not be providing the desired replica of the test which awaits in the Open at Royal Portrush, but Henrik Stenson was happy to produce a carbon copy of his first round to remain firmly in contention.

Stenson carded a second consecutive 65 at The Renaissance Club for a halfway total of 12 under par, two shots behind the joint leaders.

Former world number one Justin Thomas is a shot further back following a 64.

“It was pretty much copy and paste from yesterday, six birdies, no bogeys and any time you can play 36 holes without dropping a shot is pretty good,” said Stenson, who is seeking a first win in almost two years.

“It’s more target golf than links golf but I am coming from three weeks off so I am trying to find some momentum as well and it’s so far, so good.

“I want the wind to come up a little bit as I see this as good preparation for next week, although we are obviously playing for a strong title as well. It’s a good way to tune up your game so I would have liked a bit more of a tougher test.”

Thomas also made the journey to Scotland with an eye on improving his poor record in the Open having missed the cut in the last two years following a tie for 53rd on his debut at Royal Troon in 2016. “If you told me I’d be 11 under I would not have guessed I’d be three shots back but I’m very happy to post two good scores,” said Thomas, who was sidelined by a wrist injury earlier this season.

“I’m getting some good competitive feedback which is important not only for the Open next week but the rest of the year.”

Slattery had set the early clubhouse target after a second successive 64 which put him in pole position to claim one of the three qualifying places for Portrush.

“That was the primary goal for the week because if you qualify for the Open that means you’ve had a good week and anything else is a bonus,” said Slattery, who shot 65 in the first round of the Irish Open last week but faded to a tie for 27th.

“Last week I started so well but did not follow it up.”

Van Rooyen matched Slattery’s 64 but the lowest round of the day, and the week so far, had come from the in-form Wiesberger, who birdied his last five holes in an inward half of 29 to set a new course record of 61.

Wiesberger, who was runner-up to Jon Rahm at Lahinch on Sunday, missed seven months of last season after wrist surgery and said: “It’s been tough the last year. Coming off injury it’s been hard.”

Shot of the day came from Welshman Bradley Dredge who won a BMW X7 worth almost £90,000 for a hole-in-one on the 17th during a round of 63.

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