Philip Walton pulled into his local petrol station to fill up the tank last Saturday night, little realising that the potential salvation of his entire season was standing at an adjacent pump.
Six days later, the Irishman’s fortunes could be transformed in the TNT Dutch Open at Hilversum as he heads into the third round sharing the lead with Argentinian Eduardo Romero on 135, seven under par.
Walton has missed 10 cuts from 16 starts in 1999 and lies 172nd in the Volvo Order of Merit with earnings of £9058, but after a superb second round of 66 he can look forward to improving his position dramatically.
And the turning point arrived at that garage forecourt near Dublin last weekend. The man who holed the winning putt for Europe in the 1995 Ryder Cup explained: “It’s been a long year and I can put my finger on the problem – holing putts.
“I went into the petrol station and this guy who I’d never met asked me how I was doing. I said I was putting terrible, so he offered me his putter out of the boot of his car!
“I’m using it for the first time this week and have holed a few good ones. It’s an old Peter Senior, one of the first long handle one ever made. It looks like it could use a coat of paint but I wouldn’t touch it. It’s his putter and I’ll hand it back at the end of the year.”
The chap in question, Miles Worth, was whisked back to the Walton residence in Malahide and offered, in exchange, the use of two of the offending Walton weapons which had been frustrating their owner all season.
It may sound like a touch of Irish blarney, but Walton certain isn’t complaining after his rounds of 69 and 66, which moved him into the lead, only for Romero to fire a second round 67 to join him at the head of affairs.
Romero threatened to climb into the outright lead but after four birdies and 13 pars, he slipped up at the last with a bogey six when many of the leaders were making birdies and eagles.
“I only make one mistake with my tee shot at the 18th, but otherwise I am happy with my game. I am healthy again and playing well after suffering from kidney stones last month. I had to pull out of the Irish Open and needed an injection to help flush the stones out of my system.”
England’s John Bickerton, who made such a fast start to 1999, moved into a tie for third with Jonathan Lomas and Gary Orr after a round of 67. Lomas (66), Orr (67) and Bickerton are tied on 136, six under par.
Bickerton, 19th in the Ryder Cup point qualifying table, admitted: “The Ryder Cup is always at the back of my mind and it annoyed me to miss four cuts recently. It’s very tight in the qualifying and two good weeks now would help my cause.”
Orr is bidding for a Scottish hat-trick after the phenomenal success of Colin Mongomerie in the Standard Life Loch Lomond and Paul Lawrie in the Open Championship at Carnoustie. He said: “I’d love to make it a Scottish treble. Paul’s win shows the strength in depth among the middle order on the European Tour.”
However the ominous figure of Darren Clarke looms large over the leaders after a round of 65 which propelled him from one over par to the group on five under. Clarke had been four over par after 11 holes of his first round, but covered the next 25 in nine under to signal his challenge.
Zimbabwe’s Nick Price, taking a break from the US Tour this week, also improved his positon with a 66 to go into the weekend on 139, three under par.