Fisher reels in a 61 to lead Irish Open over Molinari by three at halfway

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Ross Fisher had a shot to turn his 61 into a 59 on Friday, but a couple of late birdie putts just wouldn't fall for him.
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PA Sport

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England's Ross Fisher erupted into life again with a 61 in Friday’s second round of the Irish Open -- and he needed nobody to tell him it could have been an historic 59.

One of Europe's great talents has been somewhat dormant since winning the Volvo World Match Play in Spain last November. But his bid for the Ryder Cup debut he just missed last time was reignited by a remarkable charge into a three-stroke halfway lead over Italian Francesco Molinari.

Six successive birdies for a front-nine 29, then four more in a row from the 11th left Fisher needing just two in the last four to become the European Tour's first player to break 60.

There have been four 59s on the PGA Tour, the most recent of them by Paul Goydos earlier this month, while Ryo Ishikawa shot 58 in Japan in May. And only a few days ago a 17-year-old amateur scored a 57 in the Alabama Boys State Junior Championship. But, like so many before him, Fisher had to settle for the lowest round of his European Tour career and not the record.

He missed from six feet at the 15th, only parred the long 16th as well after driving into sand and failed with birdie attempts on the last two.

"I was standing on the 14th green and it (59) did sort of enter my mind," said the 29-year-old, who could leap from 13th to sixth in the Ryder Cup standings by winning on Sunday. "I was quite strong mentally to try and block it out of my mind. I just tried to give myself four chances and I did that, but it wasn't meant to be."

As for making it into Colin Montgomerie's side, he added: "This is the start of three big weeks, so I just need to go out and play how I know I can -- and fingers crossed."

Molinari is another with his sights on a first Ryder Cup appearance against the Americans at Celtic Manor in October -- and he is much closer to it than Fisher. The younger brother of Scottish Open champion Edoardo, another Ryder Cup contender, stands seventh in the current standings and would be virtually there if he triumphs this weekend.

He also covered the outward half in 29 before signing for a 66, a closing birdie opening up a two-shot gap on the best of the rest.

"When I started, Ross had already finished and I thought 12 under is a big task,'' said the player also coached by Denis Pugh. "Five under, all in all, is a good round.''

It included one shot played left-handed from close to a tree on the 17th -- and coincidentally Padraig Harrington did the same from a bush on the same hole as he shot 67 to join, amongst others, Rory McIlroy on 7 under.

"I putted like I did in my amateur days,” said Harrington, the 2007 champion, after a closing 20-footer for birdie. "It's a lot easier to play the game when you struggle a little bit and recover. You walk to the next tee feeling really good about yourself whereas the guy who hits two nice shots in and two-putts feels pretty bad.''

McIlroy, round in 68, has had 14 birdies already, but also seven bogeys.

"I'll have to really try and limit those for the weekend,'' said the 21-year-old world No. 8. "I feel as I'm playing well enough to challenge.''

Darren Clarke's 70 put him 6 under, the same mark as his fellow Ryder Cup vice-captain Paul McGinley, but their stablemate Ross McGowan's bad run continued. In the ninth and last automatic cup place with a month of the race to go, McGowan missed a fourth successive cut when a 75 dropped him to 6 over.

As for birthday boys Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose, they both mounted comebacks to finish on level par. On the day he turned 30, Rose improved six shots on his opening 74, while McDowell, exactly a year older, holed from nearly 18 feet on the last for a 72.

Fisher's 61 was in a whole different world to what happened to Jamie Elson and Hennie Otto on Friday -- they both had a 12 on one hole.

Elson's came on the 211-yard sixth, where he put four balls in the ditch short of the green, while at the long seventh South African Otto blasted four shots wildly right and was forced to dip back into his bag each time.

They finished with rounds of 84 and 83, respectively, Elson signing off with a triple-bogey 7 just to make matters worse.

It was a bad day, too, for former U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell, who is now going to fly back to his Sydney home for more treatment to the shoulder trouble that has contributed to a shocking slump. The New Zealander's 77 means he has made only one halfway cut in 20 events since last October -- and that after missing 14 in a row not long before.