Spanish favourite, Sergio Garcia, escaped a possible penalty to take the halfway lead at the Volvo Masters Andalucia at Club de Golf Valderrama on the Costa del Sol. The Ryder Cup player was judged not to have committed a rules infraction at the third hole and he went on to shoot a round of 69 for a six under par total of 136.
Garcia’s troubles began at the third hole when his tee shot flew deep into trouble and he played three off the tee, declaring the second ball as ‘provisional’. Although the first ball was found, no-one told Garcia, who elected to walk straight to the green to try to hole a 12 foot putt for a bogey. He missed and a five went on his card.
Had he known that the first ball was playable, and still played his second ball, then Garcia would have been in danger of disqualification. However at the end of his round, Garcia went to watch replays of the hole on television with European Tour Chief Referee, John Paramor, who confirmed that Garcia had not committed any offence and faced no penalty.
Paramor said: “Based on the facts, there was no problem. It is bizarre that non-one told Sergio that his ball had been found, and it would have been critical if he decided that he knew a golf ball was there and he decided not to go and identify it as his own.
“Nobody actually came to tell him that a ball had been found and it could have been his original ball. So he went ahead and played his provisional ball and in these circumstances he score with the provisional ball counts.”
Garcia, who leads by a stroke from Scotland’s Alastair Forsyth and by two from Ian Poulter of England, admitted he was surprised to see Paramor waiting to talk to him at the conclusion of a round which contained a fabulous back nine of 31.
He said: “It’s not nice to see an official waiting for you at the finish! I didn’t even know it was for me because I never felt I did anything wrong. I told him everything that happened and he felt it was correct.”
Apart from those few moments of anxiety, Garcia showed typical resilience in fighting back from dropping three shots in his first three holes. He set a target of getting back to level par for the day but did much more than that, making birdies at the tenth, 11th, 14th, 17th and 18th for a two under par 69.
Forsyth, meanwhile, also shot a 69 for 137 to ensure the top draw of a pairing with local hero Garcia in the third round. Valderrama is proving kinder to the Scot this year, after his horrific start of 12 months ago when he was nine over par after the first eight holes of the first round.
Despite a bogey at the last after an errant drive, Forsyth collected birdie twos at the difficult 12th and 15th to help his score along. He said: “I am looking forward to playing with Sergio tomorrow. He’s a big name, is back in his home country and it’s something to look forward to.”
Poulter, one of Garcia’s victorious Ryder Cup team-mates, was the only player in the 54-man field not to register a single bogey over the fiendishly difficult Valderrama course. He admitted: “That’s the key to this course – not making bogeys. I was very, very pleased to go out there and keep them off the scorecard. That’s rare. Not many people manage that here.”
Poulter had only ten putts over the last nine holes, but lipped out from eight feet at the last for what would have matched Angel Cabrera’s best of the day 66. The Argentine is on three under par after that superb score in the windiest of the weather, sharing fourth place with Frenchman, Christian Cévaër, who shot a 70 for 139.
Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland was leading the field at three under par when he came to grief at the 17th. He put three balls in the water and ran up an 11, dropping from first to 27th in the space of a few minutes.
It was a frustrating episode for Clarke, who haad played quite brilliantly up until then. Two pars would have earned him a 66 but even with an 11 he signed for a 72.