Darren Clarke protected his one stroke lead at Wentworth Club to ensure that he heads a leaderboard packed with the good and the great of golf – and the odd surprise name - going into the last two rounds of a Volvo PGA Championship.
The Northern Ireland player pushed on after an opening 66 with a three under par 69 for a nine under par total of 135. Clarke leads by one from Sweden’s Niclas Fasth and by two from a quarter of players, England’s Kenneth Ferrie, Søren Hansen of Denmark, Midlands PGA Order of Merit winner, Robert Rock, and past Masters Champion, Ian Woosnam.
The Volvo PGA Championship is, by Clarke’s own admission, a title he covets and he is certainly going the right way about adding The European Tour’s flagship event to his already impressive CV.
“I played well again” he said. “I had numerous chances everywhere and I’m pretty pleased with a 69. The wind was gusting and that’s a pretty good score. I was hitting the edges of the hole all day and I am certainly playing well enough to be doing well in this tournament.
“My patience is being severely tested at the moment, severely tested” he added. “But that’s what happens. I have to keep on playing the way I have and hopefully my scores will get better.”
Fasth, another of Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup Team from 2002, carved out a superb 67 to head the field before Clarke assumed pole position. The Swede is in a rich vein of form, having finished fourth in the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open TPC of Europe the previous week with a closing 66.
With typical Swedish reserve, Fasth shrugged and said: “It was a very undramatic round. I just made my way around and hit a few good shots. I am playing well again, I’ve found my rhythm and managed to keep it going without making a bogey.”
Woosnam, a confirmed Wentworth Club specialist and two-time winner of the Volvo PGA Championship, leapt to seven under par and right in the shake-up Already the oldest winner of the HSBC World Match Play Championship over the West Course, the Welshman is now aiming to become the most senior winner of this prestigious Championship.
At the beginning of week Woosnam was “not playing well” but a visit from his coach, Pete Cowen, has put the 1991 Masters Champion back on track. “If I could just pick up on my putting I’d be really happy” he said.
Hansen, who followed up last year’s Volvo PGA Championship victory by his close friend and namesake, Anders, by capturing the Irish Open showed a glimpse of the form which helped him to that title in 2002.
However the unsung hero among the superstars was undoubtedly Rober Rock from Tamworth in the Midlands, who earned his place in the field by his performances in his home area. He showed a glimpse of his ability by finishing 22nd in the Benson and Hedges International Open recently, but came within a putt at Wentworth Club of catching Fasth.
A 68 to follow an opening 69 was just what the 26 year old ordered. He looked a little bemused to suddenly become the subject of consideration media attention and confessed: “I’m a little surprised by all of this. I just hope I can play the same sort of golf over the next two days.”
Rock, from the Swingers Golf Centre in Tamworth, can boast of winning the Midlands Professional Championship in the past while the player one stroke behind, Ernie Els, has a rather more impressive record. Els shot a second 69 to move to six under par to share seventh place with Gordon Brand Jnr, Alastair Forsyth and Trevor Imkmelman and with his injured wrist now pronounced “100 per cent” okay again, Els is ready to launch a weekend charge.
Three of Europe’s big guns are also close to the pace on five under. Nick Faldo shot a four under par 68, Colin Montgomerie survived a broken five wood at the first when his club struck a tree to shoot 70 while two-time Masters Tournament winner, José Maria Olazábal signed for a 71.