Graeme McDowell and Gareth Maybin in contention at Fota Island

Graeme McDowell during his third round at Fota Island
Graeme McDowell during his third round at Fota Island

Graeme McDowell and Gareth Maybin have genuine shots at winning the Irish Open heading into Sunday’s final 18 holes at Fota Island Resort in Co Cork.

McDowell birdied two of his last three holes on Saturday to close the gap on the leader, Finland’s Mikko Ilonen, while Maybin shook off a horrendous double-bogey start to end the day on eight under, four back.

With 12 players within four shots of leader Ilonen, this tournament is reaching an exciting conclusion.

“It was a bit of a day of two nines if you like,” said Graeme.

“The front nine kind of got away from me after what I felt was a really solid start where I hit some good shots but I just couldn’t get the ball in the hole.

“And then all of a sudden I found myself bogeying eight and nine with jumpers from the rough and walking down the 10th fairway I had to have a chat with myself and I told myself to stay patient.

“Thankfully I managed to play well on the back and got myself in contention for tomorrow.”

Ilonen battled to a two under par third round of 69 for a 12 under par total, but his two stroke overnight advantage was halved after England’s Danny Willett surged through the field, shaving a shot off Ilonen’s own course record of 64, which was set on Thursday.

Willett holed his eight iron tee shot for an ace on the 165 yard par three seventh hole, and posted six birdies, including three in a row over the closing holes, in a round of 63 to move into second place on 11 under par.

Maybin claimed nerves were behind his double-bogey start to his day but he was pleased with the way he managed to hang in on his way to a two under 69.

“I knuckled down and grinded hard and I am proud of myself the way I fought today; to get 69 was a respectable score,” said the 33-year-old.

Darren Clarke is back to level par after shooting a two over par 73 while Michael Hoey signed for a one-under 70 and is four under for the tournament.