Irish Open: Andy Sullivan fires 65 to move into contention


Andy Sullivan and Rory McIlroy were among the earlier starters on Saturday

England’s Andy Sullivan fired a 65 to charge into contention at the Irish Open as the players finally appeared to be getting to grips with Ballyliffin.

The 31-year-old Ryder Cup player finished with three straight birdies in a flawless, seven-under-par round as he moved to within two shots of the lead.

Defending champion Jon Rahm joined Sullivan on six under after picking up five shots on his opening 14 holes.

Rory McIlroy remained on his overnight position of one under after 10.

After an opening birdie was immediately cancelled out by a bogey at two, Northern Irishman McIlroy moved to three under par after gains at the fourth and sixth, only to drop shots at the seventh and ninth.

McIlroy responded to missing the fairway left on the ninth by slamming his driver into the turf and after missing the green, a weak cheap was followed by his 10-foot par putt sliding by on the left.

The former world number one needed coach Michael Bannon to find his ball after a wild drive to the right of the next, although he managed to salvage par by holing from eight feet.

New Zealander Ryan Fox, France’s Matthieu Pavon and South African Erik van Rooyen remained in the lead on eight under par but were not due to begin their rounds until just after 13:00 BST.

Sullivan’s round matched Van Rooyen’s best-of-the-week card on Friday.

He picked up shots at the second and sixth on the front nine before successive birdies on 11 and 12 were followed by his three closing gains.

Sullivan, who played in the 2016 Ryder Cup but is only 32nd in the current European points list, will be hoping the wind could get up in the afternoon and boost his chances of being close to the lead come close of play.

Spaniard Rahm, seven off the pace overnight, birdied four of his first five holes, and after dropping a shot at the picturesque seventh, responded with further birdies on eight and nine.

Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland was unable to get himself into contention as his low-key 73 left him one over for the tournament.

Before the event, McDowell had suggested that 25 under par could be the winning total on Sunday, but the Ballyliffin course has proved a tough test despite the predominantly sunny and calm conditions in county Donegal.

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