In a week of ups and downs for the Irish challengers at Ballyliffin, round four delivered more of the same with nobody making major moves up the leaderboard.
Playing in consecutive two-balls, Paul Dunne and Graeme McDowell were followed by Shane Lowry and Simon Thornton, with Rory McIlroy paired with England’s Aaron Rai an hour behind.
Having cut a frustrated figure following Saturday’s 74, Lowry shot a two-under par 70 to post the best Irish round of the day. It was a case of what might have been, however, as the Offaly man notched five birdies in his first ten holes to reach four-under. With two par-5s to come, a round in the mid-60s was within his grasp, but a loose tee-shot on 11 found the fairway bunker and a loose iron into 16 caught a greenside bunker, both resulting in bogeys, dropping Lowry back to -2 for the tournament – currently tied for 27th.
Alongside Lowry at two-under is McIlroy, who shot a one-under par 71. A slow start saw Rory par the opening four holes – failing to birdie the fourth hole for the first time this week – before calling a penalty on himself on the par-3 fifth. Having missed the green off the tee, McIlroy’s ball moved as he was addressing the ball, ultimately resulting in a double-bogey five, taking him into plus figures for the first time this week.
Credit where it’s due, McIlroy rallied, birdieing the eighth, before reeling off three on the spin on 11, 12 and 13, before dropping another at 15 and failing to take advantage of the par-5 17thto cap off a frustrating week for the four-time major champion.
Steady improvement saw Paul Dunne shoot his lowest round of the week, however his one-under par 71 was bittersweet as much of his good work was undone by a double-bogey six at the 15th, having reached the turn at -2 and adding another birdie at the tenth.
Dunne’s round was matched by playing partner McDowell, for who posted 15 pars on his way to matching Dunne’s 71 and joining him in a tie for 41stat level par.
Perhaps the happiest of the Irish contingent at the end of play was Simon Thornton, despite shooting a second consecutive 74 to move to +2 for the tournament. Playing his first European Tour event since this event last year, Thornton opened his final round with three bogeys, before adding two more at 9 and 12.
With a decent payday seemingly slipping through his grasp, Thornton composed himself impressively, closing with back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14 and another at 17 to post +2 for the tournament, worth in the region of $20,000.