Eddie Pepperell will be disappointed not to claim the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open title to add to a case of wine he won this week, despite only just returning from injury.
A back problem had sidelined Pepperell since mid-May and forced him to miss the US Open at Pebble Beach but he showed no signs of rust in adding a 67 to his opening 65 to trail halfway leader Zander Lombard by a shot at Lahinch.
Before the serious action got underway, Pepperell took on New Zealand’s Ryan Fox in a 14-club challenge on the par-three eighth at Lahinch and emerged victorious with some brilliant shot-making to win the wager which had been agreed beforehand.
“I’ve surprised myself, I guess, to be in this position,” said Pepperell, who won the Qatar Masters and British Masters last season, and was third in the Players Championship in March.
“I don’t feel like I’ve played great but I’ve certainly been quite steady and my short game has been great.
“I would be quite honestly disappointed if I didn’t win, or certainly come close to winning, being in this position with my recent record in terms of my form over the last 12 to 18 months.”
Lombard, who was joint sixth at halfway in last year’s Open but finished 67th after a closing 82 at Carnoustie, declared himself “ecstatic” to find himself in the lead after six straight missed cuts.
He said: “I’ve had great success on links golf in my amateur career and hopefully I can take it into the weekend.”
England’s Lee Westwood, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Spain’s Jorge Campillo are two shots off the lead, with defending champion Russell Knox another two strokes adrift.
Overnight leader Padraig Harrington slipped five shots off the lead after struggling to a 73, while Graeme McDowell missed the cut after a 72.