Former Open and US PGA champion, Nick Price, has not won for almost two years now but that long win-less drought might soon be coming to an end judging from the manner in which he has performed during the first two rounds of the WGC-American Express Championship at Valderrama.
Twenty four hours after recording a nine under par 63 during the first round, Price, winner of the 1992 and 1994 USPGA Championships and the 1994 Open, returned a second round 72 in treacherous conditions in which the wind was gusting up to 30 mph and he now takes a two shot lead into Saturday’s penultimate round.
Price, whose last win came at the 1998 Million Dollar Challenge at Sun City, finds himself two shots in front of surprise package, Hidemichi Tanaka, currently No. 3 on the Japan Tour Order of Merit, three shots in front of Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, the man he partnered in both of the first two rounds, and four clear of American duo, Mark Calcavecchia and Duffy Waldorf.
Tournament favourite and defending champion, Tiger Woods, chasing his tenth title of the year, shares 6th place on 140 having scored a flawless 69 and is clearly still not out of the equation.
Price went out in two under par 34 but then dropped a couple of shots over his last four holes. Overall, though, he was delighted with his round.
“Normally, I don’t function all that well when the temperatures drop below 60 degrees but today I wasn’t bad,” he said.
“Today was one of those days when I couldn’t gain a whole lot but could lose an awful lot. All in all, I’m reasonably happy but I am a little disappointed with my two bogies over the closing four holes.
“Playing this golf course is a bit like walking a tightrope,” he added. “You feel that once you fall off you could take a while to get back on.
“Certainly, I’m in a nice position but I’m not going to get ahead of myself. Over the weekend, I will take it one hole at a time. It’s going to be difficult. For me, the most important thing will be not to make too many mistakes.
“But it’s a tough course to defend a lead.”
Tanaka, a 29-year-old from Hiroshima, Japan, did not have the best starts to his week having lost his golf clubs in transit to Spain but, once they turned up, less than 24 hours before the start, he settled down in a manner that is most unusual for someone making his first appearance on the treacherous Valderrama course.
The Japanese golfer opened with a one under par 71 and then fired a best-of-the-day 66, containing six birdies and an eagle on the 533-yard par 5 7th in the second round to exceed all his expectations coming into the event.
“It’s amazing. Every hole is difficult out there,” he said before heading off to achieve another goal, namely getting Tiger Woods autograph.
On a day when the capricious wind made scoring most difficult, Colin Montgomerie, chasing a victory that could be enough to extend his reign as No. 1 on the Volvo Order of Merit into an eighth year, did his chances no harm at all with a fine five under par 67 that saw him jump from 47th place up into a share of 11th. At this stage in the tournament, that puts him one shot ahead of Michael Campbell, two in front of both Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood and five clear of Thomas Bjorn although Clarke, the man who currently holds the No. 1 spot, still remains the favourite to win the race given Price’s dominant position at the top of the leaderboard.
Montgomerie had something of a rollercoaster ride during his second round. He birdied the 1st, eagled the 2nd after holing a wedge shot from 100 yards and then fired his second hole-in-one in seven days with a 4-iron at the 12th but also gave back a couple of shots when he misjudged the wind on his tee shot at the short 6th and ran up a double bogey.
“That was an interesting round of golf,” said Montgomerie moments after handing in his card. “It’s amazing but I can’t seem to stop holing full shots at the moment.”
Montgomerie’s ace at the 12th was his second in seven days because he also holed out on the 14th hole during the second round at last week’s Volvo Masters at Montecastillo and it means that he has now had almost 20 aces during his amateur and professional careers.
“That’s an awful lot and I have to admit that today’s one couldn’t have come at a better time. Who knows, if I can post two 66s over the weekend, and get to 14 under par, I might still have a chance. It’s a tall order, but, certainly, I won’t be giving up, not while I still have a mathematical chance to win.”
Montgomerie goes into the third round in much better shape than the previous night but the leader among the strong European continent is still Ireland’s Padraig Harringtom, a man who has won twice already this season, at the Brazil San Paulo 500 Years Open and the Turespana Masters, and who could jump into third place on the Volvo Order of Merit if he gets into the winner’s circle for a third time here this week.
Harrington matched Price’s second round score of 72 and then put his chances of winning firmly into perspective.
“Nick is playing very well,” he said. “Fair play to him, if he scores nine under par over the weekend, he’s going to win. But I won’t be worrying about that. I just want to do my best and then see if it’s good enough.