Patrik Sjöland of Sweden moved into the outright lead at the halfway stage of the Murphy’s Irish Open as the player with whom he shared the first round pace, Sergio Garcia, stumbled then recovered to stay in contention to defend his title at Ballybunion.
Sjöland added a six under par 65 to his opening 64 for a 13 under par total of 129. The Swede goes into the weekend one ahead of Rolf Muntz of Holland, who helped to assuage the disappointment of his country’s football demise by firing a 64 for 130.
Muntz, in turn, is two clear of Fredrik Jacobson, who aims to conclude a sequence reading third and second with a first place finish. Jacobson, runner-up to Lee Westwood in last week’s Compaq European Grand Prix, broke the course record with a secod round 63, later equalled by Italy’s Massimo Scarpa who came home in a personal best of 28.
Sjöland produced a dramatic finish to his round, hitting a ‘driving iron’ 203 metres to four feet at the closing hole for a birdie to take the outright lead. He admitted the effects of the flu were wearing off and he added: “I’m a little better and tomorrow I think I will be okay. It was important to birdie the last two holes to get an advantage.
“I am the sort of player who’s really hot when he’s hot and really cold when I’m cold. I thought when I went out that a 69 or 68 would have been a good score. My game was a little sharper when I won in Italy in 1998 but it’s not far away.”
Muntz, winner of the Qatar Masters earlier this season, made seven birdies and no mistakes in his 64 to move into contention. He is at a loss to understand why he has missed ten cuts from 12 starts in the 2000 season, but a second victory this week would go a long way to easing that disappointment.
He said: “One of the reasons I’ve missed six cuts in a row since Qatar is that my routine has changed. I used to play on Tuesday and take Wednesday off. Now I play in the Pro-Ams. I don’t like it but I know it’s necessary and I am coming to terms with it slowly.”
Jacobson, bidding for his first success on the European Tour, admitted: “I hope I can add a first to my third and second places recently. That’s what I’ve been trying to achieve this year. I’ve come close a couple of times and haven’t been far off in the last two tournaments.”
While Sjöland was continuing his forward progress, it seemed that defending champion Garcia was going rapidly into reverse. After sharing the lead on Thursday, he birdied the third then promptly dropped six shots in four holes from the fourth – a most uncharacteristic lapse.
However the 20 year old Spaniard showed his mettle by completing the last ten holes in six under par for a round of 70 to get back into the hunt on 134, eight under par. He said: “It was a strange day. I don’t know what happened. However I said to my caddie, let’s get our normal game back and try to get to six under. I played the last ten in exactly six under..
“I knew I wasn’t hitting the ball extremely badly. I didn’t want to be out of the tournament and now I’m not. I am right back in it. Even in a wind I wouldn’t have expected that run of bad holes, never mind in a flat calm!”
Philip Walton heads the Irish challenge on 136 – and his second successive 67 could not have come at a more opportune moment. The 1995 Ryder Cup hero, who holed the winning putt at Oak Hill, lost his card last season and did not regain it at the Qualifying School.
Now he is down to his penultimate invitation and needs a high finish to regain his playing rights for 2001. He laughed: “It’s a shock to see my name at the top of the leaderboard, but I’ve done a lot of hard work to get back to this point. I’ve spent a lot of time practising on the beach here in Ballybunion. I prefer that to standing on the range with people standing right on top of you.”Second Day Video Highlights