Argentinian Ricardo Gonzalez made a speedy move through the field in the TNT Open with a round of 65 which earned him a one stroke lead over New Zealand’s Greg Turner going into the weekend at Noordwijkse Golf Club in Holland.
The 31 year old from Rosario took command of a European Tour leaderboard for the first time with a ten under par total of 132, one ahead of Turner – who matched his six under par 65 – with a group of five players a further stroke behind.
Gonzalez came within a whisker of winning the South African Open last year but has not come close since. He attributed his new-found consistency to a regimen of hard work and a new liaison with a French sports psychologist.
After a round containing an eagle and six birdies, Gonzalez admitted: “Last year I played very good at the start then dipped in the middle. Now I feel about 60 or 70 per cent better. I think I have more confidence and I’ve put in more practice.
“I have worked more on my game this year and tried to get a better swing. I am also now working with a psychologist, Jean Paul, who has helped a lot of players including two of my Argentine colleagues, Jorge Berendt and Gustavo Rojas. He has been very important.”
Turner revealed that his 65 had been “as close to a perfect ball striking round” as he had ever achieved. He said: “It was actually an easy 65. It’s not often you can say that. I’ve started to play nicely the last couple of weeks and I felt comfortable. I hoped that would show itself at the Open but it wasn’t to be.”
Of the five players sharing third place on 134, eight under par, the biggest surprise appearance was that of teenager Richard Sterne from South African. Playing in his first European Tour event, the 19 year old show at 67 to join some illustrious Tour winners such as Peter Baker, Darren Fichardt, Padraig Harrington and Dean Robertson.
Sterne has just signed up with Andrew Chandler’s ISM stable after turning professional prior to the Open Regional Qualifying. A former South African Amateur champion, he played with Lee Westwood in the 2000 South African Open – and the relationship with ISM was born.
“I only flew in on Monday night” he said. “This is my first event on The European Tour and I had hoped to get a bit of confidence and maybe make the cut. The rest is a bonus. I hope I can get four or five more starts and get my card. That'’ the goal."”
Harrington, already a sure-fire certainty to make the European Ryder Cup team at The De Vere Belfry, reached the halfway stage with matching 67s which were anything but. He explained: “You cannot believe the difference between those two rounds of golf, although on paper they are the same scores. Today I got away with a 67. Yesteday, a 67 was easily the worst score I could have shot.”
Fichardt, winner of the Sao Paulo Brazil Open, carded a 66 to join that prominent group while Baker and Robertson both compiled scores of 68.
Andrew Oldcorn, winner of the Volvo PGA Championship, and another Andrew – Coltart – maintained their push for Ryder Cup qualification after scoring 65 and 69 respectively to finish on seven under.
Liverpool supporter Darren Clarke was supported by some of the Anfield team - in Holland for a pre-season tournament - but double bogeyed the 13th on his way to a round of 70 which was matched by two-time US Open champion, Ernie Els. However Le Westwood, the champion two years ago, missed the cut comfortably on 150 after a round of 76.
Dutch Amateur Niels Boysen, who led after a first round 64, tagged a 75 on to that opening effort for 139, but still made his first cut in ten starts.