Irish Open: Graeme McDowell two behind after strong finish at Fota

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Graeme McDowell's hopes of winning the Irish Open at Fota Island are boosted by two late birdies as he goes into the final day two shots behind leader Mikko Ilonen.

Irish Open 2014, Fota Island, third-round leaderboard

-12:
M Ilonen (Fin)
-11:
D Willett (Eng)
-10:
G McDowell (NI)
-9:
F Zanotti (Par), M Baldwin (Eng), K Broberg (Swe), R Wattel (Fra)
Selected others: -8:
G Maybin (NI), S Khan (Eng)
-6:
P Casey (Eng), P Harrington (Ire)
-2:
M Fitzpatrick (Eng)
Level:
D Clarke (NI)

Graeme McDowell posted two late birdies to lie two behind leader Mikko Ilonen after the third round of the Irish Open at Fota Island in Cork.

McDowell began with a birdie at the second, but bogeyed eight and nine to drop back before recouping shots at 11, 16 and 17 to boost his challenge.

He lies 10 under after a 69 - the same score as Ilonen, who is 12 under.

England's Danny Willett carded a hole-in-one at the seventh on his way to a course record 63 and is now 11 under.

The 26-year-old found the hole from 165 yards with an eight iron to move into contention.

Willett then finished strongly, with birdies on the final three holes helping him post the best round of the week.

That pushed him to within one shot of the lead and within touching distance of securing one of the three places on offer for next month's Open Championship at Hoylake.

McDowell, chasing Ryder Cup points in the hope of representing Europe at Gleneagles in September, posted a signal of intent by recording a birdie at the second.

The former US Open champion passed up a number of other opportunities before finally sinking eight-foot putts at the par-four 16th and par-three 17th.

"I went close with a lot of putts but I've been in that scenario a few times before and just tried to stay patient," explained the Northern Irishman.

Mikko Ilonen has led after each of the three days at Fota Island
Ilonen has led after each of the first three days

"There were a lot of opportunities if you drove the ball well but I was unlucky on the greens until I holed a few birdies late on to get me back in the tournament."

Finland's Ilonen has now led after each of the opening three rounds, but it took a birdie on the 18th to restore his one-shot advantage over the chasing pack.

Paraguay's Fabrizio Zanotti (65), Matthew Baldwin (66), Kristoffer Broberg (66) and Romain Wattel (70) remain in the running for the €265,000 (£212,000) first prize on nine under.

Four birdies in five holes from the third gave defending champion Paul Casey hope of mounting a challenge but dropped shots at 15, 16 and 18 left him six under.

Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin gave the 28,000 crowd something to cheer as a 69 left the Northern Irishman eight under.

Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington birdied the last for a 71, and is part of the group of players on six under, while Michael Hoey's 70 left him four under.

Darren Clarke (73) is level par, with England's Matthew Fitzpatrick (70) is two shots better off after continuing to impress on his professional debut.

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