Tait: Donaldson holds 54-hole Irish Open lead

Jamie Donaldson from Wales tees off on the 15th hole during day three of the Irish Open.

Jamie Donaldson from Wales tees off on the 15th hole during day three of the Irish Open.

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland - It isn’t the leaderboard anyone wanted when the decision was made to take the Irish Open to Royal Portrush. Somehow Jamie Donaldson, Anthony Wall and Mark Foster isn’t the three-ball anyone expected at the top of the leaderboard heading into the final round.

Thank goodness Padraig Harrington is just two shots off Donaldson’s 12-under-par lead along with Foster. Wall is one behind. Thankfully Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke all made the cut, too.

As a rehearsal for an Open Championship, taking the event to Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast was a good idea. Too bad it’s turned out to be more of a wet than a dry run.

Wet, soft conditions is just the opposite of what is required for an Open Championship trial, where a fast running course is the prerequisite. Heavy, constant rain has ruined the Irish Open party.

And produced the leaderboard from hell. Almost.

Donaldson has made nearly 4 million euros in earnings since turning pro in 2000. He has just two second place finishes on the main tour, although the 36-year-old has three Challenge Tour victories.

Wall won the 2000 Alfred Dunhill Championship and hasn’t stepped into the winner’s circle since, although he has been runner-up on five occasions during that time. The 37-year-old has made 6.8 million euros in his 17 years as a pro.

Foster counts the 2003 Dunhill Championship as his only victory since joining the professional ranks in 1995. The 36-year-old from Lee Westwood’s hometown of Worksop, England, has three seconds in his life, two last season. One of those seconds came when he lost a playoff for the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. He’s earned 3.8 million euros over his career.

These three have made over 15 million euros between them with just two victories. The word you’re looking for is “journeymen.”

Thankfully the same term can’t be applied to Harrington.

Anyone who thinks all players are equals in any tournament only needed to be on the first tee here at Royal Portrush as the third round got underway. Over 30,000 fans turned up for the third despite the incessant rain. Umbrellas were out in full force as the players drove off from the first. Most of those umbrellas were bobbing down the Portrush links by the time Foster and 36-hole leader Gregory Bourdy teed off. Little respect was given to the Frenchman and the other player from Worksop.

Northern Irish fans mostly had eyes for the Ulster trio of McDowell, McIlroy and Clarke, and of course Harrington.

Unfortunately, the Ulster boys didn’t get the best of the weather. Clarke started off birdie, eagle to move to 7 under, but the full brunt of the rain and strong winds got to him on the back nine. The reigning Open Champion came home in 39, 3-over, including a double bogey at 17 for a 73 to throw away any chance of contending in the final round.

McDowell also went round in 73 and at 4 under is out of the running, too.

McIlroy was the best of the trio, with a 71. That’s 10 shots worse than the course record 61 he recorded in the 2005 North of Ireland Amateur Championship.

“A lot of holes played long and a lot different to what they usually play,” McIlroy said. “That’s the hardest I’ve seen this course.”

So hard that McDowell had to hit a 3-wood on the 200-yard, par-3 14th hole. “That says a lot about how difficult the course was playing,” McDowell said.

Not so difficult for Donaldson, Wall and Foster. They got the better of the draw since the rain had stopped after about 12 holes of their round.

Donaldson’s one-shot lead is nothing on a course as tough as Portrush, even if it’s almost as soft as an Irish peat bog. And the Welshman knows it. “The only person I’m playing against tomorrow is myself,” he said.

Now that’s pressure, but he’s not alone.

Harrington is bidding to win the Irish Open for the second time, following his 2007 win at Adare Manor. That victory set him on track to win the Open Championship at Carnoustie. The Dubliner hasn’t won in two years, though, since the 2010 Iskandar Johor Open on the Asian Tour. He is without a European or PGA Tour win since the 2008 PGA Championship.

“I haven’t won in a while either, so a win would be a big deal for me,” Harrington said.

And for everyone concerned with Royal Portrush and the Irish Open. It would save the tournament from the leaderboard from hell.

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