Rory McIlroy relishing Irish Open battle with Masters champion Danny Willett

Rory McIlroy watches his second shot on the 5th hole
Rory McIlroy watches his second shot on the 5th hole

Rory McIlroy admitted he was relishing the rare sensation of being in contention to win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open after setting up a weekend battle with Masters champion Danny Willett.

McIlroy had missed the cut in his home event for the last three years but added a second round of 70 to his opening 67 at The K Club to finish just a shot behind clubhouse leaders Willett and Marc Warren.

Warren surged through the field with a superb 66 to finish alongside Willett on eight under par, the world number nine carding five birdies and four bogeys in a 71 in his second tournament since claiming a maiden major title at Augusta.

“It was a little bit erratic in places,” McIlroy said after finishing his round in style with his fifth birdie of the day on the last.

“I gave myself plenty of chances and took care of most of the par-fives but made too many mistakes.

“I missed a few more greens because I missed a few more fairways so I need to tidy that up but 70 was not a bad score this morning.”

Asked about the prospect of contending for the title, McIlroy added: “I knew I was coming in here playing pretty well so I never thought the cut was going to be an issue. I’m excited to be up there with a chance to win.

“To have the Masters champion and me both up there, it’s shaping up to be a great weekend.”

Willett beat the scoring average for the field by an incredible 8.9 shots with an opening 65, but struggled to reproduce that form despite again getting the best of the weather conditions.

“It wasn’t bad, a little bit scrappy,” Willett said.

“It was windy at times and there were a couple of sneakier flags out there as well so you can’t come off being joint leader and be too unhappy.”

Warren has yet to record a top-10 finish on the European Tour this season and had missed the cut in five of his last seven starts, but hopes a run of events will help him recapture the form which took him into the world’s top 50 last year.

“For the first few months of the year it’s been a bit stop-start but we’re getting into more of a run now and hopefully that continues,” the world number 132 said.

“I worked extremely hard to get in and around the top 50 and it’s nice to know you can do it, so it’s just about finding the right formula to do it more often.”