Australian Peter Fowler and American Tim Thelen defied driving rain to set the pace on three under par on the second day of the Van Lanschot Senior Open.
Fowler (71), Thelen (69) and Spaniard Juan Quiros (71) were the only three players to break par on a brutally tough day in The Hague, the Netherlands.
With the course at Royal Haagsche Golf and Country Club playing every inch of its 6,752 yards, that trio and Scotland’s Gordon Brand Jnr – who sits in third place on two under par after a round of 73 – are the only four players currently under par at the €250,000 event, which reverts to the traditional stroke play format for the final round after two days of Pro-Am competition.
Fowler, who captured his maiden European Senior Tour title at the ISPS Handa Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum at the start of the month, collected birdies at the third, eighth and tenth holes. But he gave shots back at the 11th and 16th to set the clubhouse target on three under par, a mark which was met late in the day by Thelen.
The 52 year old from Sydney, currently fifth on the Senior Tour Order of Merit, said: “It was so tough out there today. It was raining when I woke up, and it didn’t stop the whole time we were out there. It wasn’t particularly heavy rain but it was persistent, which always makes life difficult.
“Even in good conditions it’s a very demanding course with lots of steep slopes, so it really tests you. If you can stay on the straight and narrow it’s not too bad, but that’s often easier said than done. If you stray off line a little, you can find yourself in some real trouble.
“Luckily I managed to drive the ball pretty well today, as did Gordon [Brand Jnr]. He always drives it well, so it was quite inspiring watching him. If you drive the ball anywhere it makes life a lot easier, but that’s especially true of this course. If you’re driving’s not spot on, you’re going to find life very tough.
“But I really enjoy playing this golf course. We don’t get the chance to play links courses too often, so it makes for a very nice change. I just hope we can get better weather for the final day, so we can enjoy it a little more.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Thelen, who closed with a birdie on the ninth hole to sign for a round of 69 which, in the conditions, was little short of outstanding.
The American, making only his second Senior Tour appearance, was also tied for the lead going into the final round in his debut event last week, but will be hoping for better fortunes this time after being pipped to the prize in Cologne by Welshman Ian Woosnam.
He said: “I probably played a lot worse than I did yesterday, and yet ended the round three shots better off – but that’s the nature of the game of golf for you. When I did miss I tended to miss in the right places, and it also helped that my putter was working well today. It was really difficult in the conditions, with rain in the first half of the round and wind in the second half. So we saw pretty much everything – except for the sun! But hopefully we’ll get some tomorrow.
“I’m very much looking forward to the final round. Obviously I was disappointed to shoot level par on the final day last week to miss out, but credit to Ian because he played some great golf. It was my first event, so to finish third was a pretty good effort. But hopefully we’ll have a bit more luck and a different result tomorrow.”
Thelen and Fowler will be joined in the final group by Brand Jnr, who had also looked on course to finish on three under par but missed a par putt from four feet on his last hole to sign for a round of 73.
The Scot, who finished runner-up behind his compatriot Andrew Oldcorn at the recent De Vere Club PGA Seniors Championship, had jointly held the lead overnight, but slipped back to a share of third place.
The 52 year old got off to the perfect start with a birdie on the tenth hole before adding another on the 14th, but a bogey at the 16th – the hole where he had incurred a two-stroke penalty on the first day – coupled with a double bogey at the third, checked his momentum.
He said: “I played pretty well today in tough conditions, but one or two loose shots let me down again. I lost my ball on the third – I think it ended up in Amsterdam! So in the end I actually did quite well to make par with my second ball. I holed out very well in the main, which bodes quite well for tomorrow. I didn’t think when I finished my round that I’d be in second place come the end of the day, so I’ve got to be very happy with the position I’m in. The forecast is for much better weather, so hopefully I can take advantage of the better conditions.”
Spaniard Quiros got his round of 71 off to an explosive start with an eagle at the first hole and a birdie at the third, but undid some of the hard work with a bogey at the sixth and a double bogey at the 14th, before staging a late rally with a closing birdie to take fourth place on one under par.
Former Ryder Cup-winning Captain Sam Torrance of Scotland endured a frustrating day on the greens as he slumped to a round of 75 which dropped him back to fifth place on level par.
Torrance had jointly held the overnight lead, but could only manage a single birdie – on the second hole – due to a cold putter.