Peter Fowler (Getty Images)
Australian Peter Fowler fired a superb six under par 66 before the rain came down at Fairmont St Andrews to surge into the lead in the second round of the SSE Scottish Senior Open.
The 2011 European Senior Tour Order of Merit winner benefitted from a 7.20am tee time, finishing before the worst of the weather arrived on the Fife coastline, as he shot three strokes lower than anyone else in the field to move to five under par 139.
He will take a one shot lead into the final round, ahead of England’s Peter Mitchell, Spaniard Santiago Luna and Irish pair Denis O’Sullivan and Philip Walton, with the latter the only other player to break 70 with a three under par 69.
“I hit the ball well today,” said Fowler, who finished third in the SSE Scottish Senior Open in 2011 and sixth in 2010. “They moved a few tees up because of the weather and I was driving it well, so I had a lot of short irons in. When it rains up here and is cold the ball doesn’t go anywhere. The greens were perfect today though.”
Fowler, who started on the tenth tee, began with a birdie on his opening hole before picking up three shots in a row before the turn to move up the leaderboard, having started the day in a share of 37th position.
His run came after he sank a 10ft par putt on the 15th, with a superb 40ft birdie putt on the 16th igniting his round. The 54 year old then holed a ten foot birdie putt on the 17th and two putted from the back of the green on the par five 18th, before his only bogey of the day came on the third hole.
He hit straight back with consecutive birdies on the fourth and fifth holes, rounding off a magnificent performance with a further birdie on the last hole.
The former BMW International Open winner had a knee operation at the start of the year, but is slowly returning to form after finishing sixth in last month’s Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex at Royal Birkdale and he admits that links courses are to his liking.
“I played well in the Senior Open this year,” said Fowler, who is chasing a third Senior Tour victory. “I like the firm fairways because it rewards good shots off the tee. If you hit a low one you can still get it to run, even into the wind. I like that and you have to analyse it. It’s good fun.”
Walton, who secured the winning point for Europe in the 1995 Ryder Cup, has yet to record a top ten finish on the Senior Tour after turning 50 last year. He carded five birides in his round of 69, while compatriot O’Sullivan, who at the age of 65 is chasing his eighth Senior Tour title, signed for a level par 72 to stay on four under par.
O’Sullivan’s playing partner Luna, who is playing in his first season on the Senior Tour, admitted he struggled during the worst part of the weather, but he showed plenty of resolve to card a one under par 71.
“For a Spaniard, that was very tough,” he said “Normally in this weather, we stay at home. I’m really happy though because I played very steadily and made some putts. I kept my head on the course, when it was easy to lose it.
“For someone like Denis O’Sullivan, who I played with, it’s not so bad playing in this, but for me it is tough! It was difficult to know what clubs to use, so I’m pleased with my round.
“I’m in a good position too. I will have an opportunity tomorrow. I’m really enjoying being on the Senior Tour. I was on The European Tour for 26 years and the last couple I was playing with the youngsters, and I felt like I was playing a different golf course. Now I’m playing with my own people, so it is great to be back in contention.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell is also enjoying being back at the sharp end of the leaderboard after winning the SSE Scottish Senior Open title in his rookie season in 2008 at the tournament’s previous venue, the Marriot Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club.
“It was horrific out there today and it felt like a grind and a battle, so I just stuck in there and it was great to finish a couple under for the day,” said the Englishman, who posted a 70. “It was a gutsy round and I was pleased to hang in there.
“It’s nice being in contention again. I’ve started playing well again this week. In the Pro-Am I was five under so I’ve showed some good signs.
“I’ve not been practising much as I’ve been busy elsewhere, but my short game is holding up. I’ve hitting the ball nicely though and I wouldn’t be surprising if I went out tomorrow and won. I’m playing that well.”
When Mitchell won the title five years ago he beat former Ryder Cup Captain Sam Torrance by two shots, and Torrance is also in contention again after a level par 72 kept him three shots off the pace in a share of eighth place.
Torrance, an 11-time Senior Tour winner, is hoping for one more victory before he turns 60 next Saturday.