It might have been six shots more than his course record opening 63 but Colin Montgomerie’s second round 69 on a difficult scoring day at Fota Island was sufficient to maintain his two shot lead at the halfway stage of the Murphy’s Irish Open.
On a day when the wind swirled off Cork’s River Lee around the demanding 6927 yard course, the Scot’s ten under par total of 132 saw him finish the day in the same place he started, albeit with different names in close pursuit.
At the end of the first round it had been local hope Eamonn Darcy and Fredrik Henge who had kept closest order and although the Swede hung on to share third place with a 70, Darcy’s 75 saw him slip down the field.
Partnering Montgomerie in the third round will be England’s Anthony Wall who secured second place outright on eight under par 134 with his second consecutive 67, while three players joined Henge on seven under par 135, Thomas Björn, Barry Lane and Thomas Levet.
The second day, however, belonged to Montgomerie, who revealed that although his first round had taken most of the attention, he regarded his second round as perhaps the better effort considering he had to recover from an uncertain start.
A drive into the lake at the 12th, having started his round at the tenth, cost the 38 year old Scot a bogey five and when he three-putted the 16th, he lost possession of the outright tournament lead.
But Montgomerie battled back and birdied the 18th to end his outward half on a high before completing a highly satisfactory and flawless second nine, garnished with birdies at the fourth, fifth and sixth holes.
“Yes, in a lot of ways that was a better round than yesterday’s because of the way I started,” said Montgomerie. “I saw Thomas was going well and obviously a big threat and he will be at the weekend I’m sure, but I played the back nine very well.
“I think after dropping back to six under and actually losing the lead for a while it was important that I didn’t panic and concentrated on what I was doing.
“It is difficult to go out in difficult blustery conditions after a 63 and expect to do the same again. Anything under 70 today was a good score and so to come back from being two over and recover with four birdies was a good effort.”
Closest challenger Wall rediscovered some of the form which saw him claim his maiden European Tour victory last year in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa with a controlled 67 which featured only one dropped shot.
That came at the 15th where the 26 year old Londoner had the misfortune to find some mud on his ball in the middle of the fairway, causing his six iron approach to come up shot of the green from where he took bogey five.
But Wall quickly made amends, firing his approach to 12 feet at the next hole for a birdie three before pitching to one foot on the 507 yard 18th for a closing birdie four.
With Ian Poulter having won already this season on The European Tour International Schedule and players such as Justin Rose, David Howell and Paul Casey figuring consistently in tournament shake-ups, Wall admitted he felt a turning point had arrived for English golf which for a spell had had to rely solely on European Number One Lee Westwood.
“It is tough out there but I think there are probably seven or eight players who could go on to be world-class,” said Wall. “We all have a chance to be top players – there is certainly room out there for it and I think in five years time we will be stronger, I do believe it.”
Although not one of the younger breed, Wall’s viewpoint on English golf was strengthened by the appearance of Barry Lane near the top of a leaderboard again thanks to his second round 67 for a seven under par total of 135.
The 41 year old, who played in the 1993 Ryder Cup at The De Vere Belfry, has struggled with a knee problem in recent years but with the news that an operation is no longer required, the four-time winner on The European Tour responded in style.
Six birdies in total erased his dropped shots at the first and 12th and Lane admitted that victories in recent weeks for players such as Thomas Levet, who won the Victor Chandler British Masters at Woburn had also inspired him.
“I play every week with people like Thomas and Raphaël Jacquelin so it was fantastic to see Thomas win and Raphaël get second in the English Open. I take the money off them every Tuesday so I wonder why they’re doing it and I’m finishing 50th or whatever.
“But I’ve been using a long putter now for five weeks and I’m holing a few more. I feel a lot more relaxed and I’m starting to enjoy it again. To say it’s been a wretched time of late is being kind but my wife Steph has been great and given me a kick up the backside and told me to get out there and earn some money.”
Lane’s friend Levet matched his 135 total with his own second round 69 before revealing his sights for the season had changed since his win at Woburn.
“My goal now is to play in the Ryder Cup,” he said. “Why not set a high goal? I am in the hunt again this week and another win would just about put me in the team. If it is possible once it is possible twice.”
The most disappointed of the quartet to finish on 135 was undoubtedly Thomas Björn, who looked to be heading for at least second place on his own, if not a share of the lead, before he dropped shots at two of his last three holes, the seventh and ninth for a 69.
“I played all right but my poor shots were very poor indeed,” he said. “I had a bad start and a poor finish although I played some nice stuff in between. Things just didn’t happen for me but I think I deserved a bit better than I shot.”