Ireland tie Aussies for the lead

World Cup favourites Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will take Ireland into the weekend in a 1st place tie with Australia.

World Cup favourites Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will take Ireland into the weekend in a first place tie with Australia.

The two Northern Ireland golfing icons shot a 4-under 68 in the difficult, alternative-shot foursomes in Friday’s second round to reel in Australia’s overnight leaders Richard Green and Brendan Jones and secure a share of the lead after the first two rounds.

The Australians went two up in Thursday’s easier betterball round of fourballs after posting a spectacular 11-under 61 at the Blackstone course at Mission Hills Resort on Hainan Island in China, but they were not able to maintain that kind of fire on Friday and cooled down considerably with a two over 70 that enabled the Irish to catch and match them.

Having started tentatively with a birdie on the second and a bogey at the fourth, the duo from Down Under then saw Green chip in from a bunker at the fifth for a birdie that had looked set to be a bogey and then Jones fire a brilliant second shot to within 15 feet of the pin for left-hander Green to sink for an eagle.

Green, a three-time European Tour winner, holed from a similar distance at the 13th to take Australia three clear, but two bogeys over the closing stretch opened the door to the charging Irish – and they didn’t hold back.

They grasped their chance by adding three more back-nine birdies to the three they had picked up on the first loop and, but for a see-saw back nine that also saw them pick up two bogies, they may well have finished in the lead.

“I think both of us are very pleased about the score that we ended up shooting today,” said reigning US Open champion and World No 2 McIlroy.

“I think anything in the 60s in the foursomes format is a very reasonable score out there.

“There is still a lot of golf to be played this week, so it will be nice to get out there tomorrow again and enjoy the fourballs and be aggressive and make a few more birdies. I think we are very pleased with how today went and we are looking forward to the weekend.”

Ireland started the week as the bookies’ favourites, and 32 year old McDowell insists there would be more drama over the weekend before the winning country emerged.

“Alternate shot golf is a very difficult format,” he said. “We struggled to find our rhythm a little bit on the front nine. Rory really putted well today, which kept things together.

“I’ve struggled a little bit on the greens the last couple of days, but I was happy the way I swung the club in general today again and Rory is playing lovely.

“Looking forward to getting back out there into better balls tomorrow where we can both play a little bit more aggressively and get into our rhythm better. But we are very, very happy with that performance today – four under par in this format is a pretty good effort.”

For the Australians, Green agreed that foursomes golf was much tougher than fourballs and said in the circumstances he and his partner were “pretty happy” with their 70.

“It was a pity we didn’t finish the round better, but it is certainly not the end of the world.”

Only six shots separate the top 20 teams, with Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher and Martin Laird in third on 12 under – Laird’s missed five foot par putt at the last in producing their only bogey and denying them a share of the lead.

Spain, New Zealand and the United States are fourth on ten under, Alvaro Quiros and Miguel Angel Jiménez combining for a bogey-free 69 that included an eagle at the 16th after big-hitting Quiros drove to within 20 feet.

England, The Netherlands and surprise package Mexico are nine under.

In the meantime, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, major winners both in the last two years and one of the pre-tournament favourite combinations, made up some ground to begin repairing their disastrous first round.

The embattled duo posted a back-to-back 4-under 68 to rocketed from 5th-last among the 28 teams on Thursday into joint 9th place on Friday.

They were tied with defending champions Italy who were to add a 3-under 69 to their opening 67, and host nation China, who like South Africa, matched their first-round 68 with a second one.