Peter O’Malley leads the Murphy’s Irish Open at the halfway stage after a second round 67 at Fota Island took him to nine under par 133, one clear of the chasing pack that includes the defending champion Colin Montgomerie.
The Australian picked up five birdies with just the one dropped shot on the eighth hole, where his approach came up short and he was unable to get up and down, to move ahead of Alex Cejka, Montgomerie and Carl Pettersson as he chases his fourth European Tour title.
“I drove the ball well today,” said the 37 year old. “Hit every fairway and that is the key round here. The fairways have firmed up a bit so the emphasis on carrying the ball a long way isn’t so great which suits me. The course is playing like an Australian course with firm fairways, firm greens and a bit of wind. I enjoy playing here.”
O’Malley is still remembered for his first victory on The European Tour International Schedule when he covered the last five holes at Gleneagles in seven under par to pip Montgomerie to the Scottish Open title ten years ago. In 1995 he won the Benson and Hedges International Open to his list of victories and won his third title last year when he produced another great comeback, turning a five stroke deficit into a one shot win in The Compass Group English Open.
He has enjoyed more success this year, taking the notable scalp of World Number One Tiger Woods in the first round of the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play and winning the Clearwater Classic in New Zealand.
“I want to go out there and try and finish off this week,” he added. “You have got to put yourself in contention to win tournaments.”
Montgomerie remains on course to defend his title as he chases an unprecedented fourth Murphy’s Irish Open title after birdieing the last two holes to return a second successive 67 and move to eight under par.
Montgomerie birdied four of the first eight holes to move among the leaders but dropped a shot on the ninth after suffering a twinge in his back. He was treated by the on course doctor with pain killers but struggled to find the fairway over the back nine before finishing strongly to get back on track.
“I had all sorts of problems coming in,” he said. “I had a problem on the ninth tee… sometimes it traps itself. I had all sorts of problems but finished strongly. I chipped and putted on the 15th and 16th and then birdied the last two, so instead of being five or even four under par I am eight and that’s a big, big difference.
“I am looking forward to having another couple of 67s and I believe I can do that.”
Also on eight under par is Cejka after a best of the day 65. The German enjoyed a confidence boosting win on the Challenge Tour a fortnight ago when he won the Galeria Kaufhof Pokal Challenge in Germany and feels a fourth European Tour title, and first since his three wins in 1995, could be just around the corner.
“I would love to win on Tour again,” he said. “I won two weeks ago on the Challenge Tour and that was good for my mind to win again. In the past year I have had a few chances but never took them. Hopefully the win in Germany on the Challenge Tour will give me some confidence and if I keep knocking on the door eventually it will open.”
Pettersson claimed his first European Tour title earlier this year when he won the Algarve Open de Portugal and is again in contention after another flawless 67. The Swede is back in Europe after a three week break in America where he is having a house built but felt he needed to return to try and pick up a big check to help pay for it.
“Eight birdies, no bogeys, can’t be bad after 36 holes,” he said. “Actually I could have done a bit better and holed a few putts. There is a long way to go but I am playing well and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Among the group of players a further shot back is former European Number One Lee Westwood whose resurgence continued with a second round of 68 despite a double bogey on the tenth.
Westwood made four birdies in succession from the third but his run faltered after a poor drive on the tenth cost him two shots. Another bogey followed on the 12th but the Ryder Cup player bounced back with birdies on the 14th and 16th holes to lie two shots of the pace.
“I’m delighted with the position I am in,” he said “I have a chance going into the weekend which is something I have not been bale to say for quite a while. Very satisfying.”
Des Smyth continues to lead the home challenge, his second round of 68 leaving the 49 year old two shots off the pace on seven under par.
The spectators also had reason to celebrate as Fredrik Jacobson's hole in one on the 11th won them all a free pint of Murphy's, courtesy of the sponsors.