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Sharma and Smith share lead at Irish Open as McIlroy struggles to mount title bid

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Sharma and Smith share lead at Irish Open as McIlroy struggles to mount title bid

    Written by The Associated Press

    STRAFFAN, Ireland -- Shubhankar Sharma and Jordan Smith shared the halfway lead at the Irish Open on Friday as Rory McIlroy struggled to mount a bid to win his home event for the second time.

    Sharma shot 6-under 66 and Smith followed with a 65 as they finished the second round at The K Club on 13 under for the tournament, one shot ahead of Ross Fisher (66).

    Smith, the world No. 85, was the only player in the top eight ranked inside the top 100, with the leading names in the field needing a big weekend to get into contention.

    Shane Lowry, who was born about 45 minutes away in Clara, was alone in ninth place after a second straight 68 while McIlroy shot 70 -- to lie eight off the lead on 5-under par -- after a mixed end to his round.

    The 2016 champion and No. 2-ranked player holed out for eagle from 116 yards at No. 16, only to follow that up with a double-bogey at the 17th after finding the rough off the tee and his second shot and missing a bogey putt from 4 feet. He then got up-and-down from a greenside bunker for a birdie at the last.

    McIlroy was tied for 26th place and in a group including Adrian Meronk, the defending champion from Poland, who also shot 70.

    Sharma, who tied for eighth at the British Open at Hoylake either side of four straight missed cuts on regular European tour events, briefly had a six-shot lead on 14 under after racing to the turn in just 28 shots with seven birdies and two pars.

    The Indian player could only cover the last seven holes in 1 over, then saw Smith -- an afternoon starter -- reel him in.

    The second of Sharma's two European tour wins came in February 2018.

    “I took a four-week break after The Open and was sick last week so spent most of the weekend sleeping on my couch, but I still have good memories from The Open so I am just trying to continue that form,” Sharma said.

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