New Zealand’s Michael Campbell and David Smail fired a six under par 66 – the best of the day by two strokes – to take a four shot lead into the third round of the EMC² World Cup in Japan. The Kiwis mastered the tricky foursomes format better than anyone in the field to finish up with a 15 under par total of 129 at The Taiheiyo Club in Gotemba.
Japan’s Toshi Izawa and Shigeki Maruyama thrilled the huge home support by shooting a round of 69 for a share of second place on 133 with Scotland, whose bogey at the last cost them outright second.
That three putt by Andrew Coltart and Dean Robertson earned the Scots a 71 and the chance to play with defending champions, United States, in the third round fourballs. David Duval and Tiger Woods were one of three pairings to shoot 68 which propelled them up the leaderboard into a tie for fourth with Spain and Denmark on 134.
Campbell, a leading player on The European Tour, praised the putting skills of his partner – a regular competitor in Japan - and commented: “Overall it was a great team effort. Just like the All Blacks! We know each other’s games well and it’s important to have that extra edge of getting on well with your partner and combining well.”
The New Zealand pairing surged ahead with three birdies on the front nine then, assisted by Smail’s deadly accurate putting, picked up three successive birdies from the tenth to accelerate away from their rivals.
Smail conceded that playing regularly on the Japan Tour has its benefits. He said: “This is pretty good for me. I suppose. I know the grass types well and I know what it’s like to play at this time of year, especially on the greens.”
Scotland, one of three co-leaders after the first round, had the type of erratic day which Coltart had hoped to eliminate from his plans after Thursday’s 62 in the fourballs. Robertson admitted he was not on top of his game and over the back nine the Scots had four birdies offset by three bogeys.
Scotland’s duo had just rattled off a hat-trick of birdies from the 15th to sweep into second place on their own but at the last Coltart charged his first putt from the front edge and Robertson missed the return from four feet.
“I’m struggling with my game” said Robertson, the 1999 Italian Open champion. “Andrew is playing great at the moment and I feel I let him down at the end. We rallied well with these birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th but I pulled my drive at the last. I was pulling everything.
“When your game’s just a little bit off, faults come to the fore and that is disappointing for me. It’s hard enough to get a rhythm going in foursomes without the added problem of struggling with your swing. Still, we are here and doing a lot better than a lot of other people.”
Denmark’s Thomas Björn and Søren Hansen moved up into a tie for fourth with a round of 69, containing three birdies and no bogeys and Björn said: “We did what we had to do in this format. We had no bogeys and that’s the key in alternate shots. It’s hard to find a rhythm, but we are both driving the ball well and not putting each other under pressure.”
Also on the same mark are Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jiménez, who could not get the putter working in their round of 71 which included 11 straight pars to finish.
While Duval and Woods climbed the leaderboard with their 68, France put up an outstanding effort by matching their playing partners’ score for a nine under par total of 135 and a share of seventh place.
Thomas Levet and Raphaël Jacquelin enjoyed their stroll in the company of the World’s Number One and Three and Levet remarked: “I’ve played with Tiger before at the Open but this was more relaxed, less pressure.
“However we had to play well for 68 and we both putted very nicely. I think the key was at the ninth where we were in trouble and Raphaël chipped in for a par. We then made a birdie and these two holes changed our fortunes.”
Ireland finished with a level par 72 for an eight under par total of 136 while Wales and England both ended the day on 137 after scores of 71 and 72 respectively.