Friday, 20 April 2001
Darren Clarke started his second round in much the same vein as the first with a barrage of birdies on his opening nine holes as he moved into a share of the lead in the Via Digital Open de España at El Saler on nine under par with Andrew Raitt.

The Ulsterman, who started his first round with six successive birdies, enjoyed another purple patch with a run of four birdies in succession from the fifth to go out in 31, five under par. He picked up another birdie on the 11th but, as he did on the first day, Clarke lost momentum with a dropped shot on the short 12th where he missed the green left. He dropped another shot on the 17th to complete a round of 68, four under par.

“I got off to a really good start,” he said. “I hit the ball well, hit lots of good shots and holed some nice putts. But the finish was disappointing. I thought I was on course for a 63 or 64 today. The mistake on the 12th cost me my momentum.”

He was joined late in the day by Raitt, winner of the British Assistants Championship in 1998, who picked up six birdies in a back nine of 32. A four under par 68 took the Englishman, whose best finish is joint seventh in the Moroccan Open two years ago, to nine under par and sharing the lead.

With the magnificent El Saler links buffeted by strong winds and rain during the morning, it was the Swedish contingent who made the greatest impression with Robert Karlsson, Jarmo Sandelin and Carl Pettersson all moving to eight under par and only a stroke off the lead.

Starting at the tenth, Karlsson was out in 35 but picked up three birdies on the homeward stretch for a round of 68. Karlsson, back in action last week after a four week break, played alongside Sandelin with both players bringing the best out of each other.

“We both played well,” said Karlsson. “It was good fun. I managed to knock a few putts in.”

Sandelin was two shots better for the day thanks to a round that included eight birdies and just two bogeys. Following his seven birdies in the first round Sandelin has now notched up 15 in two days but it was the length of the birdie putts which stood out today.

After a mere tap in from two metres on the 13th, his fourth, for his first birdie, Sandelin proceeded to hole birdie putts from 15 metres on the 14th, nine metres on the 16th and 23 metres on the 17th to reach the turn in two under par. His next two birdies came from three metre putts before two more huge putts dropped from ten metres on the seventh and nine metres on the ninth for a round of 66.

"This is my best round in terms of long putts,” he said. “Sometimes I have a short memory but I can’t remember making so many long putts. So often the putts go close but this week they have gone in. Hopefully they will continue for the next two days.”

“Pettersson joined his compatriots on eight under par courtesy of a round of 69, three under par. In his last outing the 23 year old rookie finished second to Angel Cabrera in the Open de Argentina and the break seems to have done him no harm as he picked up five birdies with just the two dropped shots.

“I was not disappointed in Argentina but very happy to have finished second,” said the European Amateur Champion who earned his Tour card through the Qualifying School. “I played well, had a good week and it was good experience. It helped a lot. This is my rookie year and I feel very fortunate with the way it is going.”

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