Friday, 24 November 2006

Despite a disappointing finish, which featured bogeys at both the 17th and 18th holes, Australian amateur Aaron Pike held onto the halfway lead in the MasterCard Masters at Huntingdale Golf Club, but his nearest challenger going into the weekend is now the resurgent Englishman Justin Rose.

Pike, a burly 21 year old who only took up the game full time five years ago after devoting his early sporting attention to cricket, looked to be cruising into a comfortable 36 hole lead when five birdies in his first 16 holes moved him to 13 under par for the tournament and four shots clear of the field.

But as Rose found on the opening day when he shed shots at the 16th, 17th and 18th, the closing stretch of the testing Melbourne layout is demanding and Pike, who equalled the course record 64 on the opening day, carded bogeys at the last two holes to finish with a 69 and an 11 under par total of 133.

However, despite his stumbling finish, the young Australian remained upbeat about his chances going into the weekend. “Just because I'm leading or just because there might be top 20 golfers breathing down my neck, I'm not going to go out there and hit a thousand balls on Saturday morning to try to get better,” he said.

“I've shown for the first two days that I can play and if I do it again, if I shoot 11 under again which is do-able, it's going to be hard for one of those guys to run over the top of me.”

While Pike was the last man to tee off in round two, second placed Rose took advantage of his early start to signify his intentions of claiming his third European Tour title in this, a co-sanctioned event between The European Tour and the Australasian Tour.

While England’s cricketers continued to toil in Brisbane, one of the nation’s favourite golfing sons showed no signs of a collapse as he posted eight birdies in total in a superb 66 which moved him to nine under par 135.

Particularly pleasing for the 26 year old was, that after the poor finish to his first round, he made amends in fine style with a birdie three at his final hole, the 413 yard ninth.

“It was great to end that way and gives me a good feeling going into the weekend but I have to say that I played the par threes really, really well today too,” he said.

“I made three twos after hitting iron shots close on all of them all. Anytime you make three twos it tidies up your score pretty quick. I thought I got off to a good start yesterday afternoon, I thought it was tough conditions yesterday and I was very happy with 69 and obviously to back that up with today in slightly easier conditions with a 66 is exciting.”

Heading the charge behind the leading pair was another unheralded Australian, Kurt Barnes, who matched Rose’s 66 for an eight under par total of 136 while the next European Tour Member nearest to the top of the leaderboard was England’s Simon Khan in a share of fourth place on seven under par 137.

Further down, defending champion Robert Allenby moved into a share of 15th place on four under par 140 while one of the pre-tournament favourites, European Ryder Cup star Paul Casey reached halfway in a share of 20th place on three under par 141.

However, there will be no weekend action for another of the fancied competitors, the 2005 US Open Champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand, who missed the cut, which fell at one over par 145, by two shots after rounds of 74-73.

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