A log jam developed at the top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage of the Smurfit European Open with six players sharing the lead including defending champion Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, the man Westwood overhauled in the final round to claim the title 12 months ago. They are joined on five under par by Argentina’s Angel Cabrera, Englishmen Gary Emerson and Gary Evans and Welshman Phillip Price after a testing day at The K Club.
Westwood strengthened his bid to retain the title despite a visit to the River Liffey. The world number six's second shot to the 424-yard 17th, his eighth hole of the day, finished in the river and cost him a double bogey six. But by then he had already fired four birdies and picked up three more in the remaining 10 holes for a 68.
Twelve months ago Westwood turned a seven-stroke deficit into a three-shot win last year, shooting a closing 65 to overnight leader Darren Clarke's 75 and over the past two months has hit top form. Since the Benson and Hedges International Open he has beaten Tiger Woods in Hamburg and finished second, fourth, fifth and first again
“I got off to a good start, four under after six,” he said. “But I made a mental error on the 17th and smothered the shot into the river. The course is not easy any more. The new tee on 17 has made a huge difference. You used to be have all Ireland to bail out right. You can’t do that any more and it’s been a huge improvement. It will be a great Ryder Cup venue.”
In the second round last year Clarke smashed the course record with a magnificent round of 60, 12 under par to become the first player to shoot 60 twice in European Tour history. Although he produced no such fireworks this year, his round of 67, five under par, was only one stroke off the best of the day and leaves him well placed to claim his third title of the year and become the first Irishman to win on Irish soil since John O’leary in 1982. The highlight of the round was a holed lob wedge from 99 yards for an eagle on the tenth.
“That was my goal today going out, to give myself a chance to get back into the tournament and I managed to do that,” said the current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit. “A 67 this afternoon in those breezy conditions was a very good score.
“ I hit a lot of good shots today and on the tenth hit a nice lobber and it goes close to the hole and goes in. So be it.”
Cabrera maintained his position at the top of the leaderbaord with a level par after eagling the last after dropping four strokes in the space of six holes from the ninth. “I played well and struck the ball well,” he said. “But had 34 putts out there and that’s no good. The tournament starts tomorrow. There are a lot of great players up there but all players have a chance.”
Evans appears to be emerging from an early season slump thanks to some help from Van Phillips on the range. On Monday Phillips gave him a few tips on the range and Evans has put them to good effect, posting a second round 70 to join the leaders.
“I’ve been swinging so badly for so long it is difficult to change,” he said. “A lot of things went wrong in the first half of the season and then suddenly I realised I had to pull my finger out.”
Emerson is another player searching for his maiden victory but after finishing sixth here last year, The K Club has been a happy hunting ground for him. Bouyed by local support for his caddie, Emerson shot a 69, a bogey on the last costing him the outright lead.
Price, runner-up three times this season, also shot a 69 after picking up four birdies on the homeward stretch but anticipates all the movement will come over the weekend. “There are so many people up there,” he said. “I certainly didn’t expect yesterday’s score to be leading. But there will be a lot of moving round tomorrow and the same on Sunday. You’ve just got to hope it is you.”
Among the four players a shot off the pace is Colin Montgomerie after a round of 73 in which “nothing happened”. The cut fell at three over par.Day 2 Video Highlights