England’s Ian Poulter continued to shrug of the affects of a bout of tonsillitis to lead local favourite Phillip Price by two strokes at the halfway stage of the Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open.
After a good night’s sleep Poulter returned to the Wentwood Hills course at The Celtic Manor Resort feeling slightly better than 24 hours earlier and it immediately showed on the course. Four birdies in the first nine holes took him past Price, who had set the clubhouse target of ten under par following a second round 66.
The birdies dried up on the back nine for Poulter until the final hole when he got up and down to complete a second round 67, five under par, for a 12 under par total of 132.
“I feel more myself,” said Poulter. “More energy and felt stronger. I just went out and played the same as yesterday. Hit plenty of fairways and greens and gave myself lots of chances. I felt I hit a lot of good putts coming in but you can’t hole all of them.”
Two years ago Poulter and Price were battling it out for the final place in Europe’s Ryder Cup team with Price securing the tenth and final place ahead of his English rival. This time the two players are set to battle for the €347,360 first prize with Price aiming to become the first home winner of the title.
Buoyed by plenty of home support under glorious sunshine, Price picked up six birdies in a flawless 66 to move into contention for this third European Tour title.
“I was steady all through the game today, that was the secret,” said Price. “I didn’t get in any trouble, hit a few good approach shots and took my chances.”
During The Ryder Cup Price emerged as hero when he defeated the then World Number Two Phil Mickelson and secured a vital point in the singles. He is now hoping some of what he learned from that experience will help him.
“I would like to think that sometime down the road that will be an asset to me, when I am feeling particularly nervous again I will know I can still play properly and pull through. Hopefully that point will come soon.”
South African Darren Fichardt lies a shot adrift of Price after a five under par 67 which included an eagle three on the fifth and three birdies to finish. Fichardt has been in the doldrums since winning the Qatar Masters, making his first cut since then in last week’s Volvo PGA Championship. However, he feels he is now back in the swing after enjoying a six week break after his play-off victory in Doha and then completely changing his equipment to Nike.
“It was a bit of messing about but I have got used to the irons now,” he said. “It’s nice to have my name near the top of the leaderboard and I’m feeling confident about the weekend.”
Another player from Southern Africa, Mark McNulty of Zimbabwe, is also well placed among the leaders after also shooting a 67 to move to eight under par. The 49 year old won the last of his 16 European Tour titles two years ago but is once again in the hunt after a strong putting display.
“Anytime you hit a good score it is not just a case of hitting it close but holing the putts. I have a famous saying that was given to me a long time ago – Your good shots are only as good as the putt.”
That was unfortunately exactly the problem for pre-tournament favourite Colin Montgomerie who was his usual model of consistency from tee to green, hitting almost every fairway, but he was unable to convert the putts. Two birdies and one bogey completed a one under par 71 but his 36 hole total of level par 144 was one stroke too many as he missed his first halfway cut on European soil since the Trophée Lancôme in 2001.
With the cut falling at one under par other casualties at the halfway stage included past champions Paul McGinley and Steen Tinning and local favourite Ian Woosnam.