Local favourite Nick O’Hern moved into the driving seat in the Heineken Classic at The Vines Resort in Perth when a second round 69 saw him claim joint ownership of the lead at the halfway stage with Denmark’s Steen Tinning.
The pair finished on nine under par 135, three shots ahead of another Dane, the 1998 champion Thomas Björn, Sweden’s Robert Karlsson and South African Roger Wessels, who continued the good form he showed last week when he finished tied for third in the Mercedes-Benz South African Open at East London.
In close order behind the leading group on five under par 139 were an impressive array of talent assembled for the weekend, including double Open champion Greg Norman, his fellow Australian Shane Tait, New Zealander Paul Devenport, first round leader Dean Robertson and defending champion Michael Campbell.
The fact O’Hern made a fast move through the field was appropriate for, moments after the 29 year old left the course, he took possession of a brand new sports car, a reward from wife Alana for reaching the quarter-finals of the WGC-Accenture World Match Play at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Victoria last month.
There the left-hander, who led the first round of the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth last year, lost to eventual winner Steve Stricker but proved to himself once and for all he could handle competitive golf at the highest level.
His new-found confidence was put to the test at The Vines when he was paired with Norman and England’s Nick Faldo in the first two rounds but O’Hern comfortably outscored both major winners, in particular Faldo, who missed the cut after rounds of 74-73.
Three years ago, O’Hern played alongside Greg Norman for the first time at the Great White Shark’s own tournament at The Australian. “I remember shaking so much on the first tee,” he said. “It is a good thing the first is downhill because at least I knew I’d be able to get it airborne.
“But I’ve played with Greg a few times since then and every time it gets a little easier to be used to the feeling of playing with the Shark,” he said. “It is just another round of golf now.”
O’Hern birdied his opening hole, the tenth, but gave the shot back, and the outright lead that he had held, with a bogey at 14th. A run of three successive birdies to the turn, including a tap in at 16 after he went within inches of a hole in one, moved him into pole position once again.
But with the course in benign condition, O’Hern could only manage a string of nine consecutive pars coming home, leaving him frustrated by the fact he had played better on the front nine without reward.
“The course is playing fantastic, the fairways are very tight, and the greens are running nicely, it’s going to be a good weekend,” he said.
Another man set for an enjoyable Saturday and Sunday was Dane Steen Tinning, who upstaged his more celebrated compatriot Thomas Björn to grab his share of the lead with an excellent 66.
Plagued with injury during his career, the 28 year old’s latest misfortune came in May 1999 when a stray tee shot during a company day struck him and crushed his right thumb, forcing him out of golf for two months.
When the bone regenerated itself, it grew back at an angle, an irritation which still troubles him occasionally, but the winner of last year’s Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open proved in the Antipodean sunshine, that he can handle the discomfort.
After opening with a 69 on Thursday, Tinning made the most of the calmer weather which blessed the second round, overcoming a pair of bogeys with an eagle and six birdies, including four in succession from the 15th to close out his round.
“When I shot 69 yesterday, I was very happy because with the wind I would have been happy with even par,” he said. “Shooting 69 was very nice. Today I struck the ball well all the way around.”
“I didn’t know it was going to be this good a round, I just happened to make two putts coming in and finished with four birdies, so that turned a good round into a superb round.
“To get myself into a position on Sunday morning on the first tee where I can win the tournament has been my goal for the last year. Sometimes I felt I was too impatient starting Thursday morning and trying to win the tournament,” he said.
“You don’t win tournaments before Sunday afternoon anyway. So I have been trying to mentally get past that and be a little more patient throughout the week.”
Best round of the three closest challengers on six under par was posted by Robert Karlsson who birdied his opening hole, the tenth, and was four-under by the turn with three more gains at the 14th, 16th and 18th. The Swede went on to finish his flawless 66 courtesy of two more birdies coming home.
Roger Wessels picked up a couple of early birdies at the second and third before closing his front nine with a bogey. However a quartet of birdies over his final six holes saw him to his 67. Björn failed to produce the fireworks of his opening 67, but birdies at the 12th and 18th helped the Ryder Cup player to a 71.
Further down the field, another notable name to miss the cut alongside Faldo was young Australian Adam Scott, who could not reproduce the magic which brought him the Alfred Dunhill Championship a fortnight ago, rounds of 72-77 sending him home for a weekend break.
But the player he pipped into second place at Houghton, England’s Justin Rose, lived to fight another day thanks to a gutsy finish which saw him birdie the last, playing from a greenside bunker to three feet and holing out to make the cut right on the mark of one over par.2nd Round Video Highlights