- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

STRAFFAN, Ireland (AP) - Rory McIlroy could be on the cusp of his first Irish Open victory if the heavens permit him to finish.

Lightning storms bedeviled Saturday’s third round at the K Club. Tournament organizers suspended play for the night with McIlroy ready to tee off the 16th hole holding a three-stroke lead over Masters champion Danny Willett.

A visibly exasperated McIlroy protested to officials amid bucketing rain that fading light meant he couldn’t see the course properly.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t get to play the whole 18,” he said. “But it was getting dark out there. I struggled to read my putt on 15 and wasn’t really comfortable to hit the tee shot on 16.”

Officials had already suspended play twice and evacuated the course for nearly four hours as lightning posed a danger to the 65-strong field and 20,000 spectators. Attempts to complete the round produced two brief evening periods of play amid monsoon-style downpours, but no finish for McIlroy or 11 other golfers.

McIlroy, 9 under for the tournament, has never won the Irish Open and failed for the past three years to make the cut. He was the only player on Saturday not to drop a single shot and used his superior driving power to record birdies on two par-5 holes.

Willett started the day one shot ahead of McIlroy, but carded one birdie and three bogeys in his first seven holes to fall into second, three shots behind. Willett managed par the rest of the way but, like McIlroy, was left stranded waiting his turn at the 16th tee.

European Tour officials said Sunday’s play would involve a sunrise start for McIlroy and the other third-round survivors with no break in play before the final round. They said the weather forecast remains alarming with more delays in prospect.

McIlroy said he was relishing Sunday morning’s restart, with two of the Arnold Palmer-designed parkland course’s biggest targets still in play.

“I’ve got two par 5s to play in the last three holes,” he said, “so hopefully I can pick up another couple of shots tomorrow morning and go into the final round with a nice lead.”

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