Rory McIlroy stumbled to a 70 on Friday to sit one shot off the lead at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. The Ulsterman would have liked his round to have been better and possibly catapult himself into the lead, but tricky weather conditions prevented this on a difficult morning in Straffan.
McIlroy started on the 10th, and opened with three consecutive pars before picking a shot up at the 13th. He concluded his front nine with a disappointing bogey on the 17th before getting a stroke back with a birdie at the 18th.
His second nine begun with a birdie at the first, before two bogeys in three holes scuppered his chances of reeling in Willett. The 27-year-old did land up sinking three birdies on his second nine to come in 35 strokes. The four-time major winner did finish on a positive note, birdieing the ninth (his eighteenth), sending the Irish supporters into a rapturous applause.
Willett, also starting on the 10th, opened with a birdie before being knocked back by two bogeys. The Englishman showed his metal after, picking up birdies at the 16th and 18th to turn in one-under-par 36. The Masters the had a sketchy second that included two birdies and two bogeys to eventually card a 71 and be in a tie for first with surprise package of the morning Marc Warren.
The Scotsman made the K Club layout seem easy as he racked up seven birdies and only dropped a single stroke to card a scintillating six-under-par 66.
From a South African perspective, Jaco van Zyl is contention going into the weekend after shooting rounds of 68 and 72 to be at four-under-par and in fourth place on his own.