Friday, 19 March 2010

He might have suffered the irritation of a three putt bogey at the last, but Justin Rose remained very much in the hunt at the halfway stage of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National.

The 26 year old European Tour Member, whose opening 69 saw him joint top with American Brett Wetterich, was the last player to tee off in the second round and had nothing better to beat than the two under par totals of Wetterich and South African Tim Clark, last year's runner-up to Phil Mickelson.

However, Rose could not manage a single birdie the entire day and with bogeys at the first, tenth and 18th, he handed in a 75 for a level par aggregate of 144 and joint fourth place with Americans Zach Johnson and Jerry Kelly as well as European Tour Honorary Member Vijay Singh. Home town Augusta boy Vaughn Taylor is third on his own on 143.

“I managed to create some birdie opportunities out there but unfortunately I didn’t take any of them,” said Rose. “But to not have any birdies and only shoot three over out there with conditions that hard is probably a decent round.

“It was a hard, hard round of golf, way harder than yesterday, and I think we got the tough end of the draw. The greens were rock hard and spiked up this evening and so it was very, very difficult out there.

“But I feel really relaxed out there. I feel like I’m taking shots on the chin, getting up and down as often as possible and staying on an even keel. That is good but it is harder to do as the week goes on. But I’m in a good frame of mind.”

Back playing in the event for the first time since he led at halfway in 2004 and then crashed to a Saturday 81, Rose had opportunities for birdies from inside eight feet at the 13th, 14th and 15th, but they all slid by.

The tournament is wide open entering the final 36 holes and there is plenty of additional European Tour interest, led by Padraig Harrington, David Howell and Bradley Dredge, all of whom reached the halfway stage on one over par 145.

After a superb second round 68 Harrington not only re-ignited his hopes, but gave himself the chance to create history.

Nobody has won at Augusta National after an opening 77 or an eight-stroke deficit after the first round, but his seven-birdie performance - matched as the low score of the week so far by Ryder Cup team-mate Paul Casey only 10 minutes later - brought the Dubliner back into contention for a first Major title.

Harrington said: "I thought the course was an excellent test and set up very well. It was a good mental test - when to go for pins and when to play safe.You've got to give it your full attention. Yesterday I messed up a lot of simple shots."

That included pitching into the lake on the 15th for a triple-bogey eight. But on his return to that hole he birdied and then put the icing on the cake with another at the last.

Howell, in a tie for third when he resumed, needed two attempts to get out of a greenside bunker on the first for a double bogey, then hooked horribly at the 575-yard second and had to take a penalty drop from the bushes en route to another six.

He fought back to stand level par with one to go, then hit another wild one into the trees and did well to drop only one shot.

"An interesting day," was the summation of his 75. "I'm not in control of the ball as I would like to be - I haven't been all year - but I'm not going to be a million miles away at the end of the day. But I'm in the hunt again at Augusta, which is wonderful."

Alongside the Irishman and the Englishman, Welshman Bradley Dredge shone on the world stage again as he made himself a contender on his debut.

Six weeks after knocking Ernie Els out of the WGC – Accenture Match Play in Arizona, the 33 year old added a fine 70 to his opening 75.

Dredge qualified for the event by being 50th on the world ranking, 0.01 points ahead of Justin Rose, at the end of December. "I didn't think I was going to be because I hadn't played for over a month, but you just never know with the world rankings," he said.

Bitterly disappointed to finish his first round with three successive bogeys he seemed in danger of doing the same when he failed to get up and down from just off the 16th green, then went long on the next.

But Dredge chipped in for birdie and, although he then dropped another after finding sand at the last, he knew he was in a great position in the tournament.

"I'm pretty excited to be in the mix and the 17th was a massive bonus," added the man who won the World Cup for Wales with Stephen Dodd two years ago. "I didn't hit the ball great, but I hit some good shots when it mattered.

"And I putted really well, which I haven't done for a while. You've just got to grind it out here and put the blinkers on. I like to think this sort of course suits me. You've really got to think about what you are doing."

European Tour interest was maintained in the upper echelons of the leaderboard by Paul Casey (68), Luke Donald (74) and Jeev Milkha Singh (75) who all finished in a share of 15th place on three over par 147 while current European Number One Henrik Stenson stood one shot behind them on 148 after his second round 76.

In total an impressive total of 21 European Tour members made it into the weekend’s action after the cut fell at eight over par 152, the highest cut in Masters Tournament history since the record high of 154 in 1982.

Amongst those who made it right on the mark was the 1988 champion Sandy Lyle of Scotland, who birdied the 14th, 15th and 16th holes to ensure his participation.

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