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Page last updated at 17:43 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 18:43 UK

McDowell leads NI Open challenge

Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell reacts after holing a putt for par on the second

Graeme McDowell carded a 73 in tough conditions on day two of the Open, leaving him one over par - six behind leaders Tom Watson and Steve Marino.

McDowell recovered well from a double bogey at the 7th to stay within touching distance of the leaders.

Darren Clarke shot a solid second successive 71 to finish on two over.

Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington grafted to card 74s, which dropped them to three over, just one shot inside the cut mark at four over.

McIlroy started with a birdie but he suffered bogeys on 2 and 4 before dropping two shots at the next after finding a green-side bunker and then three-putting.

A further bogey on 8 saw him turning in 39 and he dropped another shot at the 10th. A birdie on 13 was followed by an immediate concession but his birdie at the 17th boosted his chances of surviving to the weekend.

Those on their way home included world number one and tournament favourite Tiger Woods, who sensationally exited after a 74 proved one shot too many.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy studies a putt at the 10th during his second round

Ben Curtis, the 2003 champion, was also among those to depart after adding an 80 to his opening 65.

McDowell, after his opening 68, parred his opening six holes but then double bogeyed the 7th and dropped another shot on 9 to lose ground.

The Portrush man dropped a further shot at the 15th but a birdie at the 17th left him only six off the pace.

Clarke, who shot an opening 71, had three birdies and three bogeys in his opening nine holes to move up the field.

However, bogeys on the 10th and 13th then dropped Clarke to three over, but he played the remaining holes in one under - helped by a birdie at the 17th.

Paul McGinley will be be around for the weekend after joining Clarke in hitting a second successive 71.

David Higgins missed the cut on eight over after a 75 while Damien McGrane also exited on 12 over after a 74.

If I am eight or 10 back I will need to throw in a couple of 67s at the weekend to have a chance

Rory McIlroy

Four over looked unlikely to ne enough for much of the day and Harrington was badly in need of a birdie to maintain his Open defence before finally gaining a shot at the long 17th to improve to three over.

McIlroy said patience had been key on a tough day.

"Probably this time last year or 18 months ago I would have thrown it away and missed the cut so I am happy with the way I hung in and stayed around," said the world number 22.

"I knew it was going to be tough for everyone.

"I thought I was playing okay and I wasn't really doing anything so I was sure no-one was going to be lighting it up out there.

"I knew if I could grind it out and shoot three or four over like I did it was going to be okay."

McIlroy, winner of the Silver Medal for leading amateur at Carnoustie two years ago, will have to make a significant move in the next two days if he is to even challenge for a top-10 place.

"If I am eight or 10 back I will need to throw in a couple of 67s at the weekend to have a chance," he admitted.

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