The Spanish Ryder Cup pair Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jiménez will go head to head in the Omega European Masters after they edged clear of the field at the halfway stage at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club in Switzerland.
Garcia birdied each of the last four holes for a six under par 65 to post the target of 11 under par 131, with Jiménez a shot back after a four under par 67. The third of Bernhard Langer’s Ryder Cup charges in action this week, Luke Donald, is lying in joint third place on eight under par alongside South African Charl Schwartzel.
A dropped shot as early as his second hole, the par three 11th, where his ball ran off the side of the green was not the ideal start to another perfect day among the splendour of Crans Montana for Garcia. But he recovered that dropped shot with a two putt birdie on the par five 14th but dropped another stroke on the next par three, the 16th, after finding the bunker off the tee.
But over the last 11 holes his golf was breathtaking as he picked up seven birdies in total. The one hole he looked to be struggling on was the third where he tried to cut a little seven iron into the hole but pulled it slightly next to a tree. Fortunate to find a swing, Garcia played a sublime chip into the bank and rolled it gently down to three feet to save par. That galvanised him into further heroics and his grandstand finish.
There is a new consistency in Garcia’s game, the months of work put into re-modelling his swing after last year’s World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play now paying dividends and his favoured fade giving him extra control around the tricky Ballesteros Course at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club.
“I hit some draws too but I am feeling more comfortable hitting fades,” said Garcia. “I feel I can control it better and my misses are better than my draws. Every time I try to hit a fade and miss the fairway I miss it by two or three yards. Just off the fairway. That is nice. I just have a lot more confidence on that shot than I used to.”
Jiménez, playing in the afternoon, had not started when Garcia posted his target but set about immediately reducing the five stroke deficit, dropping only one stroke in a three under par front nine of 33. Europe’s most prolific winner of the 2004 season then drew level with his young compatriot with birdies at the 11th and 14th hole but a bogey on the 17th cost him a share of the lead.
Jiménez has won four times on The 2004 European Tour International Schedule including last week’s victory in the BMW International Open and is showing no signs to slowing down in Switzerland and remains determined to continue playing through The Ryder Cup rather than take a rest as some quarters are suggesting.
“I know it is a lot of golf, but if I go home I know I wont practice because when I go home I want to rest. I don’t want to be away from the clubs,” said Jiménez. “I will have a week off after The Ryder Cup. If I go home I don’t want to practice at all. That is no good before The Ryder Cup because you need to keep the short game and the feeling on the game.”
Asked if he was feeling tired being in contention week after week, Jiménez replied: “It is less tiring as you are enjoying yourself on the golf course. You have to enjoy it. You get tired at the end of the week when you are in contention but you recover very well because that is the way you like to feel. I like it.”
Donald remains in touch with the leaders, just three behind Garcia, his landlord in Crans Montana for the week. The two have become close friends since they first played against each other in the European Junior Match at Woodhall Spa in England in 1995, Donald coming out on top on that occasion 2 and 1. They are now poised for their first battle against each other in the professional ranks.
Donald was cruising over the first few holes, reaching five under par through ten holes but a little wobble where he bogeyed the 12th and 13th and a couple of untidy shots over the closing holes left him just off the pace.
Schwartzel, one of the latest crop of promising young players to emerge from South Africa, dropped just one shot in his five under par 66 as he chases his best finish since finishing joint third in his National Open in 2003.
Argentina’s Eduardo Romero, twice a former champion at Crans Montana, continues to defy his 50 years with another classic performance, a four under par 67 taking him to seven under par alongside Australian Peter Fowler while defending champion Ernie Els is moving ominously into contention, his four under par 67 lifting him into a share of seventh place on six under par, just five off the lead.