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Rory McIlroy still searching for spark that could fire him into frame

 

By William Callahan

Rory McIlroy struggled to keep pace as Tyrrell Hatton backed up his opening round of 63 with a second round five-under-par 65 to hold a three-shot lead in the British Masters as Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne finished the day six shots off the lead.

McIlroy shot a one-under-par 69 — leaving him eight off the pace — with fellow Ulsterman McDowell firing a 68 at the Close House course near Newcastle.

Lowry was the best of the Irish entering the clubhouse after a four-under round of 66.

The Offaly man shot six birdies yesterday, which were only undone with bogeys at the ninth and 12th holes, allowing him to finish on six-un­der overall and tied 10th.

At the ninth Lowry ap­proached the pin with a sand wedge but missed the green and failed to get up-and-down before three-put­ting a good birdie chance at the 12th to bookend a poor four hole run.

The 30-year-old shares 10th with fellow Irishmen Dunne, who shot 68 yesterday, and McDowell.

McIlroy’s second round did not get off to the best of starts. The world No 6 carded two bogeys in his opening five holes, but three birdies followed, ensuring he made the cut.

Hatton coped admirably with the wet conditions in the north east of England, carding six birdies to sit 12 under at the halfway stage.

“I’m really happy with the first two days and hopefully I can contin­ue that and take that into the weekend,” said Hatton.

“I’d like to play as well as I can and climb up the world rankings and secure (a place) in all four majors again next year.”

The leaderboard is dominated by his compatriots, with Ashley Ches­ters, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Chris Hanson joined by Sweden’s Robert Karlsson in second on nine under.

One major winner who failed to make the cut was Masters champion Sergio Garcia. The Spanish world number 10 could only muster one birdie all round.

Hatton added: “I’m really looking forward to the weekend ahead. I went to this event with the England Under-18 practice squad when it was at The Belfry and it’s a great event, one that I’ll always have on my schedule.

“It’s good to be back in form with a big run of events coming up with huge world ranking points. I’d like to play as well as I can and climb up the world rankings and secure (a place) in all four majors again next year.”

Westwood added a 65 to his opening 66 and has yet to drop a shot this week despite coping with the demands of hosting the event, which included hiring an extra field for additional parking as more than 18,000 spectators attended on Thursday.

“It was nice to stand on that first tee yesterday and see so many people here and the course in such great condition, and then it was nice to play so well,” the former world No 1 said.

“I like my position going into the weekend and I guess it’s nice for the host to be in contention.

“I’ve been busy for a year basically, then very busy for the last week and extremely busy for the last three days, so when I slipped my spikes on yesterday afternoon it was a bit of a relief to actually be a golf­er again, to come up here and not have somebody asking where we’re putting a tee or where we’re putting a flag.”

Poulter celebrat­ed his 10th wedding anniversary by also shooting a 65 to move into contention for a first victory since 2012, four of his six birdies coming in succes­sion from the 12th.

“It’s generally the week of the Ryder Cup so that’s always been an awkward one as well,” Poulter said of his anniversary. “Katie’s not here but I sent a big bunch of roses.”

Poulter’s last victory came in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, but the former Ryder Cup star is simply focusing on trying to qualify for that same event this year.

“I’ve still got some good golf left to play,” he said.

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