It might not have been as impressive as his opening 65 but Colin Montgomerie’s second round 70 nevertheless maintained his lead at the halfway stage of the 130th Open Championship and kept alive the Scot’s hopes of capturing his first Major Championship title.
Montgomerie’s performance, finishing on seven under par 135, capped a glorious day for the European Tour challenge at Royal Lytham & St Annes, which ended with seven of the first eight places being filled by European Tour members.
One shot behind the seven time Volvo Order of Merit winner was Pierre Fulke, whose 67 was the best round of the leading contenders, while in a share of third on five under par 137 was fellow Swede Jesper Parnevik and England’s Greg Owen, alongside the leading American challenger, the largely unheralded Joe Ogilvie.
Making up the strong European Tour contingent in the limelight were Alex Cejka, Niclas Fasth and Eduardo Romero, who all ended their respective second rounds on four under par 138.
Leader Montgomerie carded three birdies in total and could have had a fourth on the last hole but left his five foot putt above ground. “It was a little disappointing not to end with a birdie I suppose but I just didn’t hit the putt hard enough,” he said. “But I am still happy with my performance.
“It is very difficult to lead from the front, keeping watching the boards, looking over your shoulder and concentrating on what you are doing. Although I am experienced at this game, this is all new territory for me in the Open but I feel I am keeping myself in check.”
The Scot did admit the only time he felt a little vulnerable was walking down the final fairway, thanks to the thunderous applause and outpouring of support from the huge Lancashire galleries in the stands.
“The crowd reaction has been fantastic and I’ve never had this level of support anywhere I’ve played in the world, ever,” he said. “It really was quite emotional coming down the last and this is only Friday – goodness knows what it will be like over the weekend if this continues.”
Nearest challenger Pierre Fulke’s flawless 67 heralded a return to the type of form which saw him win the Volvo Masters at the end of last year before finishing runner-up in the WGC – Accenture Match Play in Australia in January.
“I have been struggling a bit over the past five months and so yes, it is nice to be back, especially in this tournament which is my favourite of the year,” said the 30 year old Swede.
“I didn’t play the two recent tournaments in Ireland because I wanted to work on my game and I think it helped. It didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped in Loch Lomond but I know I play good golf on links courses and it has worked out that way over the first two days.
“I think my chances are pretty good for the weekend. My confidence was good after shooting two under yesterday so I suppose it is doubly good today after shooting four under. I’m keeping the ball in play and holing important putts and I’ve only made two bogeys in two days – I think that speaks for itself.”
One shot behind Fulke, Jesper Parnevik and Greg Owen continued The European Tour’s strong showing in the season’s third Major.
“I feel very confident right now and I am playing as well as I can remember for a long time,” said Parnevik after his 68. “When you get cross winds across holes like you have today, the key to your game is ball control in both directions and I feel very confident in that aspect of my game right now.”
The Swede, who claimed the runner-up slot in the Open at both Turnberry in 1994 and Royal Troon in 1997, gave himself the perfect chance to go one better this time with an excellent start to his second round.
The four-time winner on The European Tour International Schedule began with a birdie two at the opening hole after his six iron tee shot found the centre of the green and he rolled in his resultant 15 footer.
Further birdies followed at the seventh and eighth to see him to the turn in 32 and when he birdied the long 11th from a greenside bunker, he glimpsed a share of the lead.
Parnevik then traded shots with the Lancashire links at the 14th and 15th holes before a trip into a greenside bunker at the 17th saw him drop his final shot of the day to be home in level par 36.
Parnevik put part of his success down to his putter, which he used for the first time at the Honda Classic on the US PGA Tour in March, a tournament he went on to win.
“It was after the pro-am on the Wednesday night there that a guy just came up to me and said he’d invented a new putter and handed it to me – I hit it a couple of times and then won the tournament,” he said. “It’s been pretty much in the bag since then. I know it looks a little strange, but sometimes it works!”
While Parnevik is used to the upper echelons of Major Championship leaderboards, the experience was a new one for Greg Owen but the Englishman handled the occasion magnificently and even brushed off a three putt bogey five on the final green.
“I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much after three putting,” admitted Owen. “It was a difficult first putt and perhaps I went for it a little too much because I wanted to hole it but it really doesn’t matter now – this is fantastic.
“The first time I saw my name on the leaderboard was the big one at the 18th and there it was on top. I turned to my caddie and said, ‘Hey look, we’re leading the Open Championship, and then it was real shivers down the spine stuff.”
Out in 34, Owen made his main move up the leaderboard in an excellent back nine, birdieing the 11th and the 13th before carding a rare birdie three at the tough 467 yard 17th, firing a three wood to 15 feet before rolling the putt home.
One shot adrift, Niclas Fasth grabbed the opportunity of playing in the Open Championship for the first time with both hands, after having failed to qualify five times in the past.
“Obviously I didn’t have to go to the qualifying this year (he came through the cumulative money exempt category) so that meant there was a better chance for me to prepare and it felt great to finally get inside the ropes and play,” he said.
“It’s great to make the cut and now I feel that’s a good start. I still have a chance in the tournament to do really well on the weekend. Obviously it’s a tough call to try and win, but I am going to go out and try my best.”
Certainly if the winner of the 2000 Madeira Island Open can produce his second round form in the last 36 holes of the event he will have a chance, taking on the demanding second day pins and returning with a yield of four birdies, the highlight coming at the second where he pitched in from off the green.
Another player delighted with his lofty position was Germany’s Alex Cejka, who came through the Final Qualifying at Hillside to continue his love affair with Royal Lytham & St Annes, a course where he finished tied 11th in the 1996 Open.
“I’m comfortable here, I’m making good shots, putting well and keeping out of trouble so we’ll see if I can continue that over the next two days,” he said.
“I am lucky just to be here and to be playing with the big boys. Now I find myself on the leaderboard so it’s a little bit exciting but I’m very happy – I was not nervous though, just trying to play my game.
Eduardo Romero, who made the cut in both the last two Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1988 and 1996, ensured that statistic would continue with a consistent second round 68, his only dropped shot of the day at the third, cancelled out emphatically with birdies at the seventh, ninth, 11th and 13th.
Amongst a group of players who ended their second rounds on three under par 139 were Irishmen Des Smyth and Darren Clarke and defending champion Tiger Woods, who threw off the lethargy of his opening 71 with a battling 68.
But while all the above players geared up for the weekend challenge, a number of notable names made their way home including Nick Faldo (146), Andy Oldcorn (149), Seve Ballesteros (149), Tony Jacklin (149), Thomas Bjorn (151) and Jean Van de Velde (152).
A number of US PGA Tour notable names also packed their bags including Mark Brooks (146), Tom Lehman (147), John Daly (148), Steve Elkington (149), Fred Couples (149), Jim Furyk (152) and Tom Watson (152).