Gary Orr muscled his way into the lead of the Algarve Portuguese Open after a course-record 67, five under par, moved him two shots clear of last year’s runner-up, John Bickerton.
Orr, benefiting from a regime of weight training over the winter, fired a flawless round to set a new record over the Henry Cotton-designed layout at Le Meridien Penina and take the lead at eight-under-par.
The Scot is still searching for his first European Tour title after coming agonisingly close on a number of occasions including the Alfred Dunhill Championship in Johannesburg at the start of the year. On that occasion Orr picked up his third runners-up cheque after finishing second behind Anthony Wall. The former Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year was also denied in last season’s TNT Dutch Open when Lee Westwood fired a closing 63 to win the title and the previous year Montgomerie nudged Orr into a share of second by holing a putt on the final green at Wentworth Club to win the Volvo PGA Championship.
Orr has only missed one cut since the Qatar Masters and is long overdue a win.
“I feel like my game over the past 18 months has been slowly coming together,” he said. “I’m not trying to think too much about results and just trying to think about my performance. If you concentrate on your performances and the areas of your game you need to work on, hopefully the results will take care of themselves.”
Orr lies too shots ahead of Bickerton, the 30-year-old hoping to go one better than last year to record his first title. Bickerton’s round was highlighted by a holed eight iron from 148 yards on the fourth for an eagle two. He birdied the next but struggled then lost confidence in his putting as he struggled to read the putts. Nevertheless his round of 70 moves him to six under and well in the hunt over the weekend.
“Gary is obviously playing well,” he said. “He played well all last year and he’s going to be up there a lot this year, so he’s the man to beat.
“I’ve got no high expectations. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t…..well I’m still a bit rusty and there are still some bad swings in there. I’ve got to enjoy the good ones and try to feed off them.”
Two shots further back lie the duo of Wayne Riley, winner of this event in 1996 and back on the European Tour after losing his card in 1998, and Jamie Spence.
Riley, extolling the virtues of the Algarve as the best place in the world to live because of the climate here, is delighted to be back on Tour after his set-back in 1998. “People don’t realise how hard it was last year. You’re relying on invites but I got through it. It was a test. It was a test I got through. When you are 36 years old you start to say ‘Can I do this? Can I get out there again?
“I’ve still got a lot of golf to play. This is my life. Now I’ve got to do my best to try to win tournaments. If I give 100%, what will be will be.”
The cut, including the top 70 and ties for the first time, fell at four over par, two shots too low for the former European Tour Number One Ronan Rafferty back after almost two years out of the game with a thumb injury. Rafferty shot two 75’s to finish six over par.