McDowell closes in on Ilonen in Irish Open
Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell chips from the second fairway on the third day of the Irish Open at the Fota Island Resort in Cork, Ireland, on June 21, 2014 - by Paul Faith
McDowell missed an eagle chance but birdied the last in a round of two-under-par 69 as the former US Open champion strives not only to win for a first time this season but capture a first Irish Open title.
Finland's Mikko Ilonen also birdied the 18th to maintain a one-stroke advantage also in a round of 69 to move to 12-under par and one stroke clear of England's Danny Willett.
The 26-year old Willett recorded his second hole-in-one this year when he aced the par-three seventh hole on route to an eight-under-par 63 and lower Ilonen’s new course record that had been set two days earlier.
"I called that and I thought someone would go lower than 64," said Ilonen.
"It was fun day out there today even though I didn’t play my best with two bogeys like I had done yesterday. I feel really comfortable out there and really pleased to birdie 18 and get back the lead and get myself out in the last group tomorrow."
McDowell had earlier birdied his second hole but back-to-back bogeys at eight and nine halted his progress before regrouping with an 11th hole birdie and then birdies at 16 and 17.
However, on top of the announcement earlier in the week that the 2019 (British) Open is returning to his Royal Portrush Club in what will be 68 years, along with good friend Rory McIlroy’s decision to represent Ireland in the 2016 Olympic Games, McDowell is keen to complete the week on a winning note.
"It's been fun to come here this week after the pressures of last week's US Open and just let off some steam and relax, and enjoy my golf again and also enjoy the odd pint of Guinness in the evenings," said McDowell.
"I will now try and give the crowds what they want tomorrow and that's an Irish winner but then there are a lot of names up on the leader board who will have issues with that.
"Winning the Irish Open is well up my leader board as far as wish lists of golf tournaments I would like to win, and to win would do many things like kick-start my season and boost my Ryder Cup chances.
"But more importantly I have a chance to win here in front of the home fans what with everything good that has gone on this week what with the announcement of the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush and Rory (McIlroy) and his Olympic announcement, and really everything good that is going on with Irish golf with the vibes so good at present."
And with both Ilonen and McDowell exempt for next month’s Open, those in contention for the three spots at Royal Liverpool include Willett and four players tied in fourth place on nine-under-par – Paraguay's Fabrizio Zanotti, Sweden's Krisoffer Broberg, Frenchman Romain Wattel and England's Matthew Baldwin.