In two of the four years the dunhill links championship has been in existence, the winners have been Scottish, namely Paul Lawrie in 2001 and Stephen Gallacher last year. Colin Montgomerie went a long way to making it a home hat-trick of champions when he stormed into the lead at the halfway stage of the 2005 tournament.
The 42 year old Scot, who enjoyed a glorious Open Championship on the Old Course at St Andrews where he finished second to Tiger Woods, was in imperious form once again at the Home of Golf to the delight of the legions of fans who thronged the fairways.
Montgomerie carded a seven under par 65, a score which equalled the new course record for the longer Old Course set by South African David Frost during July’s Open, for a nine under par total of 135 and the lead by a shot over England’s Kenneth Ferrie and by two from the eclectic duo of Sweden’s Pierre Fulke and Ricardo Gonzalez of Argentina.
The seven time European Tour Order of Merit winner said, after his opening 70 at Carnoustie on Thursday, that he was looking forward to coming back to St Andrews, and how he proved that to be the case with a blistering start to his second round.
He opened with two ten foot putts for birdies on the first and second holes before a two foot putt on the third brought birdie number three in a row. After a par at the fourth, the assault on the Old Course continued when he holed a 40 footer for eagle three on the fifth before almost firing a nine iron approach into the cup at the following hole to go six under for his round after six holes.
Although the following 12 holes brought only one more birdie – a two putt effort on the par five 14th – it was a fine effort in extremely blustery conditions which saw the average score for the day on the Old Course sit at 73.5.
“I’m comfortable around this course in any condition at this stage, from the first shot to the last shot,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with knowing what to do here and so is my caddie Alistair. We can play chess with this course right now and we can get it round and that is what we did today.
“I hit the ball in the right place. When I had to be big I was big and when I had to be short I was short and we did exactly the right thing. We did well today. That was a very good effort. I started the day in 25th spot or something like that and ended the day one ahead. That’s a great day and I look forward, not only to coming back here on Sunday, but also to playing Kingsbarns tomorrow.”
Second placed Ferrie, whose strong finish pipped Montgomerie to the Smurfit European Open title at The K Club earlier in the season, is again in the Scot’s wing mirrors after carding a four under par 68 at Carnoustie to match his similar opening score at Kingsbarns for an eight under par total of 136.
Like Montgomerie, the 27 year old Englishman started in sparkling fashion, birdieing four holes in a row from the 11th at The 1999 Open Championship venue. His progress was halted slightly with bogeys at the 15th and 18th, but he returned to four under the card with birdies at the fifth and seventh holes on his ‘inward’ half.
“All round I am playing well,” he said. “I have been doing extra work on my putting and it is paying dividends. It is nice to be in touch at this stage.”
Sharing third place on seven under par 137 were Fulke and Gonzalez, the former Ryder Cup Swede booking his place high on the leaderboard thanks to taking route 66 at St Andrews, while Gonzalez posted a 68 at Carnoustie.
Highlight of the round for Fulke came at the 423 yard 16th hole where, from 187 yards out, he holed his six iron second shot for an eagle two. “That was fantastic,” he said. “I hit a little six iron and it bounced up beautifully over the hump at the front of the green and rolled in like a putt. It was a great moment.
“I’m playing nicely at the moment and hitting good shots. I have been in the top 15 in four of my last five tournaments but even then, I haven’t been putting too well. I put a new putter in the bag today and changed my style a little bit and it worked well. If I can get my putter working for all four days of a tournament, then I’ll be fine.”
Gonzalez nearly repeated the eagle feat on the 383 yard 11th at Carnoustie, his sand wedge second shot finishing a mere inch from the cup. “I think I played some of my best golf for a while today,” he said. “I hit six or seven great low Scottish-type shots and made some putts – I really enjoyed it.
“My game is coming on and obviously I am trying to win this week. It will be difficult to catch Monty, but I will give it a try.”
Two players, England’s Paul Casey and Brett Rumford of Australia shared fifth place on six under par 138 after respective 70s at St Andrews, while England’s Brian Davis (71 at St Andrews), Sweden’s Peter Hedblom (69 at Kingsbarns), Australia’s Terry Pilkadaris (65 at Carnoustie) and Italy’s Alessandro Tadini (72 at St Andrews), shared seventh spot on five under par 139.
In the amateur team contest, which runs in conjunction with the main European Tour event, John Tyson, Chairman and CEO of American food giants Tyson Foods, along with the 2002 US PGA Champion Rich Beem, lead the way on 17 under par 127.