Friday, 19 March 2010

Tiger Woods came within millimetres of another slice of golfing history when his putt for the first 62 in Major Championships horse-shoed out in the second round of the US PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The World Number One’s birdie putt from 15 feet looked destined to place Woods in the record books, but the ball lipped out to leave Woods as the 21st person to shoot a 63 in the Majors while it was the 23rd time in total that a 63 had been recorded (Greg Norman and Vijay Singh did it twice).

Woods, seeking his 13th Major title, signed for a seven under par 63 – he jokingly referred to it as a ’62 ½’ – to open up a two stroke lead over the field in the 89th playing of the US PGA Championship.

The reigning Champion, who started the day at one over par, ended it six under with a total of 134, two strokes clear of Oklahoma resident Scott Verplank and three ahead of 2006 US Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy and Canadian Stephen Ames.

Sweden’s Niclas Fasth goes into the weekend as the highest placed European on 139 – one of only seven players under par at the halfway stage. A total of 24 European Tour Members made it through to the final two rounds in the Southern Hills sauna.

For a long time, it appeared that the rounds of 66 shot by Irishmen Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley and Verplank would stand at the lowest of the day. However, Woods is not a player to be under-estimated and he burst clear of the pack with four birdies in an outward 32.

He then birdied the tenth to make his presence felt on the leaderboard and simply went into turbo-charge mode by birdying the 13th, 14th and 15th to come home in 31. Even allowing for the lip-out on the last, his 63 represents his best return from a single round in the Majors.

Oglivy managed to keep pace with Woods for most of the back nine, but a pair of closing bogeys sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.

A keen student of golfing history, Woods appreciated what his putt meant at the last. He admitted: “I knew it would be a nice little record to have, but 62 ½ isn’t bad. However there are still 36 holes to go and I have to keep plodding along.

“This is a Major Championship played on a tricky course in tough conditions and there are a lot of players who can still win this Championship.”

Fasth, who finished fourth in the US Open before winning the BMW International Open, continued to mine his rich seam of form with a two under par 68 for 139. He said: “That was a good, solid round of golf without too many mistakes. I’m really happy about the way I’m playing. I like the course so it’s a good start.”

Clarke and McGinley, playing on opposite sides of the draw, took their cue from the famous highway which trundles through Oklahoma by taking Route 66 towards the business end of the leaderboard.

McGinley’s score propelled him into a share of 11th place while Clarke showed vastly improved form by following his opening 77 with that 66.

It was a more relaxed Clarke who reviewed both rounds at Southern Hills by saying: “When I went back last night and thought about my round I thought I should have shot 73 if I had been switched on. But today I played as well as I have in  very, very, very long time.”

However McGinley was thrilled with the quality of his own 66, which enabled him to overtake his close friend and fellow Dubliner, Padraig Harrington, who shot a 73 for a two round total of 142.

Now McGinley sets out over the weekend attempting to emulate the achievement of Harrington, who ended Europe’s Major drought at Carnoustie last month by winning The Open Championship after a play-off with Sergio Garcia.

Although he is six behind Woods, the three-time Ryder Cup winner enjoyed the experience of finishing 19th at Carnoustie playing in the penultimate match. How it has left him wanting more.

“Carnoustie was a lot of fun because it’s been a long time since I was in contention” he explained. “I was disappointed to finish 19th because I felt I played better than that for four rounds. But it was a big learning curve.

“I’d never been in the last few groups before and I learned a lot from the experience, not so much in terms of the playing but from all the extraneous activity going on around you. It’s a big buzz to be in contention in a Major.

“Hopefully the leaders won’t get too far away and I can stay in touching distance for the weekend. My main intention starting out was to make the cut after an opening 74 but after birdies at three and five I was off and running.”

McGinley closed his round with a lovely birdie putt of 20 feet on the last to underline the fact that his game and his putting are in strong shape. He added: “I’ve started to get confidence in my swing again and my shots are under control. I’ve worked extremely hard on my game so it’s nice to come out the other side with a round like that.”

Verplank shot a flawless four under par 66 to take the lead as Southern Hills became a sauna bath for the second successive day. The man who attended Oklahoma State University and still lives in the state, finished on four under par 136, one ahead of Ames (69) with Austin (70) in third place on 138.

"Yesterday and today I hit the ball as good as I've ever hit it," Verplank said. "I put it in position where I could putt for birdie."

Verplank, who won the Byron Nelson Championship in April and has had five top tens in his last six tournaments, said winning this week's Major at Southern Hills would be special. "It would be more than a dream come true," he said.

Ryder Cup team-mates Harrington and Paul Casey of England both finished on 142, two over par but still in the title hunt. Harrington followed an opening 69 with a 73 while Casey’s second round of 70 gave a hint of promise for the weekend.

Harrington, chasing back to back Majors, said: “I’m not in too bad shape but I would like to have been two or three better. It was disappointing to bogey the last but I’m certainly still within range. A couple of three putts out there cost me today.”

Casey also felt that two over par kept him within striking range of the leaders and commented: “It could have been lower today. Now I’ve got to get myself back under par and if I can do that I think I will be in contention.”

Another Englishman, Justin Rose, who tied for second place in last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, had one of these days where he felt he had got out on the wrong side of the bed.

“I can’t explain it” said a puzzled Rose. “I was a bit quick and jumpy today and a bit out of sorts. I’ve got to get my rhythm back. There is no great secret.”

He added: “Overall I played terribly and seemed to have to scramble for par all the time. I got it back to one over par which would have been a miraculous score, but I made two bogeys to finish, which was a shame.”

Overnight leader Graeme Storm of England slipped back with a six over par 76 after a roller-coaster second round. The Hartlepool golfer, whose opening 65 earned a two stroke lead over American John Daly, had eight bogeys, one double bogey, four birdies and five pars to finish on one over 141.

"I didn't get the run of the ball I did yesterday," the 29 year old commented. "Everything went my way yesterday and everything that could go wrong went wrong today."

Storm said he had a restless night before having to hit the opening shot of the second round.

Asked how it felt to go to bed on a two shot lead, he said with a smile: “Sleepless!” He added: “I went to sleep at 10 p.m. and woke up about 2 a.m. and it was on and off after that.

"I think I was worried about missing my alarm call, which I don't normally think about, but when you're leading a Major it's slightly different."

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