Friday, 19 May 2006

Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts leads the weather-affected Nissan Irish Open by a stroke after a second round five under par 67 carried him past a host of more fancied contenders and into the box seat with a four under par total of 140 at Carton House Golf Club.  

Colsaerts was one of the many players who dragged their storm-battered bodies back to course to complete their first round on Friday morning after Thursday's six-hour suspension caused by of high winds. However, what initially appeared like a tedious chore soon turned into a task of sheer pleasure as Colsaerts converted his opportunities in the afternoon to claim the clubhouse lead.  

However, the delay the previous day had a severe knock-on effect, and the second round was halted by fading light shortly before 9pm on Friday night, necessitating a Saturday morning conclusion to determine the cut line, expected to fall at four over par. A total of 50 players will return to finish their second rounds with round three not due to commence until 11am.

Colsaerts, 23, whose best European Tour finish was a second place in last year's Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, felt that the weather had worked in his favour.

"I don't think it has been a bad deal for me because I played well this morning and when I came back it wasn't hard for me to carry on," he said.  "I wish for some wind and rain at the weekend because that would be a real challenge, that would be cool."  

There were many in the field who would have disputed that remark as most of the field battled the elements. Rain fell almost incessantly during 13 and a half hours of play and, although the high winds had abated, the plunging temperatures made conditions extremely unpleasant.

Meanwhile, Frenchman Christian Cévaër and England’s Ian Poulter and Anthony Wall share second place on 141, three under par. All three handled the conditions with great aplomb, staying positive as others around them were succumbing to the damp and cold.

Poulter’s effort was especially commendable. The Ryder Cup player sank his final putt at 8.48pm in the pouring rain to card a two under par 70 in the gathering gloom. With a total of four birdies in the last six holes, the durable Englishman is right in contention to capture a seventh European Tour title.

"I ground out a decent round of golf" said Poulter in a master of understatement. "To birdie four of the last six holes was very pleasing indeed. Eight shots ahead would have been a better position but it's not easy out there and three under par is good. Anybody under par in playing fantastic golf."

Wall, who won his debut title in South Africa six years ago, stood at two over par after nine holes of his second round, but destroyed the back nine at Carton House with six birdies and a bogey. Those 31 strokes lifted him into a powerful challenging position going into the third round.

“The draw was kind to us, no question” he observed. “It gave us the chance to post a score.”

Cévaër followed an opening 70 with a 71 to join Wall in a tie for second on three under par and expressed a preference for difficult conditions. He explained: “I like tough conditions as they help you be more effective with your short game. I stayed patient and very focused throughout and I am delighted with the result today.”

US Open Champion Michael Campbell lies five strokes off the lead as he seeks a success on European soil before defending his title at Winged Foot next month. "It's been tough with all the waiting around and bad weather but I'm far better than this time last year when I missed the cut," the New Zealander said.

Eight-time European Tour winner Thomas Björn bounced back from a calamitous finish to the first round on Friday morning, slicing 12 strokes of his opening 78 with a course record equalling 66 in the afternoon.

Björn not only made the cut with ease but, with a level par 144, is only four strokes behind Colsaerts. The Danish Ryder Cup player triple-bogeyed the last hole to shoot a six over par 78 but turned his day around with a six under reply, citing advice from his mental coach Jos Vanstiphout for his dramatic change in fortunes.

"I had 50 minutes before going out again and Jos told me 'you have to learn how to dig yourself out of trouble', and that's just what I did," said Björn after signing for a six-birdie card.  "A 66 has put me back in the tournament from an almost impossible position."

Meanwhile, Ireland's Paul McGinley hopes to be practising again within ten days after a successful knee operation. McGinley, 39, had a piece of floating bone removed from his left knee, a Dublin hospital said, after he was forced to pull out of the Irish Open after only 13 holes on Thursday. McGinley was expected to be released later on Friday.

"Had it (the bone) remained in the back of the knee my recovery time would have been something between six and ten weeks but now I hope to be hitting balls in ten days," McGinley said in a statement.

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