European Tour history was made at Doha Golf Club as a total of 84 players made the halfway cut in the Qatar Masters, separated only by five strokes – the fewest number of shots between the 36 hole leaders and the cut line.
Gregor Havret of France, Ireland’s Gary Murphy, Andrew Oldcorn of Scotland, Nobuhito Sato of Japan and Welshman Ian Woosnam share the lead on 138, six under par, while 19 players who survived the cut on 143, one under, set out in the third round knowing that they have only five strokes to make up on the leaders!
Nine times previously, the gap between first and last has been seven shots, the most recent being in the 2001 Novotel Perrier Open de France when 133 led the field and the axe fell on 140.
Woosnam, the most experienced of the leading quintet, posted a second successive round of 69 and looked in amazement at the bunched scoreboard. He said: “Anybody who gets off to a good start tomorrow can be right up the leaderboard in no time at all.”
The 1991 Masters Tournament winner reverted to the long putter this week and saw an immediate improvement in his holing out. The Ryder Cup player, whose last victory came in the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth Club in 2001, birdied four holes coming home to join the leaders.
“That’s my first cut of the year but I don’t think that means much. A little bit of form and confidence on the greens and it can all come back. I think the long putter has made a difference. There was a point at the tenth when I worried about making the cut but I hit some good shots to get into the lead.”
Oldcorn, winner of the 2001 Volvo PGA Championship, has done little of note since, but now has a chance to get back into contention for another title after signing for a 70 to follow his opening 68.
“I think I relaxed after winning the Volvo PGA Championship” acknowledged the Scot. “I wasn’t very motivated. I was very disappointed I didn’t make The Ryder Cup Team that year after trying so hard to make it. I played 14 straight weeks and hurt my back in the process and didn’t play golf for five months.
“The 2002 season was a bit of a write off and last year I just didn’t play well enough. But I’ve applied myself again and tried to re-dedicate myself, upped my attitude and upped my incentive.”
Havret’s four under par 68 took him into a share of the lead and, like Woosnam, he marvelled at the fact that anyone in the field can win this weekend. He said: “It is going to be very interesting with only five shots between everyone. Anybody from the cut line can still win. It’s only halfway and we will see what happens.”
Murphy matched Woosnam’s inward 32 for a round of 67 while Sato celebrated his 34th birthday with a splendid cake supplied by the Qatar Golf Association officials and by holding on to the share of the lead he held after the first round.
“It was a very nice surprise” he said between mouthfuls of cake. “I enjoyed the presentation and I hope there can be another one for me on Sunday!”
Murphy birdied three of the last five holes to muscle his way into contention and admitted he needs a better weekend’s work than he achieved in Dubai. He admitted: “I was six under par after two days in Dubai and got as high at fifth at one points but shot 76 and 72 over the weekend. I need better than that this time.”