Erik Van Rooyen of South Africa carded the best round of the week to take a share of the halfway lead at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation – the fourth Rolex Series of the season – alongside first round leader Ryan Fox of New Zealand and Frenchman Matthieu Pavon.
Ballyliffin Golf Club, which has received rapturous praise as it hosts the historic national Open for the first time this week, proved a fair but challenging test once again for the stars of the European Tour.
Van Rooyen came closest to mastering the stunning Donegal links on day two, carding eight birdies for a seven under 65 which concluded with a superb birdie at the final hole, where he nearly found the hole with his approach and tapped in for an easy three.
The 28 year old enters the weekend on an eight under par total along with Pavon and Fox, all three chasing their maiden European Tour titles. Joakim Lagergren, who two months ago lifted the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open title and has won on Northern Irish soil on the Challenge Tour, was a shot back on seven under.
The 2016 Masters Champion Danny Willett was among those two shots back on six under, while 23-time European Tour winner Lee Westwood was on his own on five under. Shane Lowry, meanwhile, enters the weekend six shots off the pace, Rory McIlroy carded a one over 73 for a one under total and Graeme McDowell and Paul Dunne will also both be around for the weekend, on level par and one over respectively.
Erik Van Rooyen
“The 18th was just the cherry on the cake today. I hit it beautifully, tee to green all day, and obviously I holed a few nice putts including one long one on my back nine. I’m playing very nicely.
“You can be aggressive and go with drivers. For me it’s been a bit of a mix between the two. There are some holes where I really just want to be in the fairway and just lay up short of the bunkers to give myself a shot from the fairway even if it’s far back.
“It was a fantastic first nine, straight out of the blocks, birdie on one and holes a nice bunker shot on six which was great after a poor shot after the tee. I kept it going, calm on the back nine and then nice to finish with two birdies. I’m a happy man.
“It’s exciting to lead at a Rolex Series event and leading here too. I haven’t played too much links golf, only the Dunhill Links and now this so I’m fairly new to it but I love it. It’s going to be a great weekend.”
“It’s probably my first time in one of these events being right up there. Probably leading or going to be in the last group, which is going to be a nice experience tomorrow. It’s all wind dependent around this course. That brings a lot of those bunkers into play and you have to lay back on them.
“That’s the great thing about links golf, you can play a different golf course every day, hit different clubs all four days, and you know, I’ll just see what happens tomorrow. Looks like we’re going to get another good day, so I’m looking forward to it.”