Fisher stumbles but hangs on to Irish Open lead

By Norman Dabell

KILLARNEY, Ireland (Reuters) - A sudden stall after a blistering start in Saturday's third round saw Briton Ross Fisher's Irish Open lead trimmed to just a stroke after compatriot Chris Wood fired a 66.

Fisher had shot a scintillating 61 in the second round and threatened to come up with something similar when he ran in four birdies in the first seven holes.

However, a double-bogey on the eighth when he hit into water proved the start of a stumbling run which left him 10 strokes worse than his previous day's effort.

His level-par 71 in windy conditions put him just clear of charging fellow-Englishman Wood and Italian playing-partner Francesco Molinari (69).

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (68) could have been on level terms with Fisher but dropped two shots on the last by hitting out of bounds and slipped to fourth place.

The Spaniard's playing-partner Padraig Harrington (69) had better luck on 18. Harrington found water but then holed a 40ft putt to save par and share fifth place, three strokes off the lead, with Australian Richard Green (69).

Fisher's hopes of a Ryder Cup debut could hinge on the 500,000 points for the winner on Sunday. He knows he has a tough task to hold on to his position which would take him into Europe's nine automatic qualifying spots.

"The double on eight halted me in my tracks," Fisher told reporters. "I just hope I can go out tomorrow and put today's round to the back of my mind."

Molinari would virtually seal his Ryder Cup debut with victory and he is keen to follow up on brother Edoardo's recent Scottish Open success. "I fought hard today and I just hope my time comes sooner rather than later," he said.

Wood, 22, surged into contention playing alongside the tournament favorite Rory McIlroy and outshot his 21-year-old peer by 10 strokes.

Wood's charge was fashioned around a blistering run of five birdies from the fifth, but the young Englishman had to keep his concentration with a large crowd urging on his playing-partner.

Wood said: "The atmosphere playing with Rory made it difficult and it took me a few holes to get it right, but the run I made was good for my confidence."

In contrast, McIlroy closed with a second double-bogey for a 76 and left the course disenchanted with his form, admitting he could not wait to get over the Atlantic.

(Editing by Dave Thompson)