Former PGA Championship winner Tony Johnstone closed with back-to-back birdies to keep alive his hopes of a maiden Seniors victory at the Open de France Senior Divonne, finishing alongside Chile’s Guillermo Encina and Australian David Good at the top of the leaderboard.
The Sunningdale-based Zimbabwean, winner at Wentworth Club in 1992 during a successful European Tour career, ground out a second round of two under par 70 at Golf du Domaine Divonne to finish on seven under par 137.
Johnstone (67-70), Encina (68-69) and Good (68-69) are one stroke clear on a bunched leaderboard and, in the words of Good, “You’ll need to throw a dice to decide the winner’.
Japan’s Seiji Ebihara, a former winner of the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit, and the Spanish duo of Juan Quiros and Emilio Rodriguez are all one stroke off the pace, while a total of 20 players sit within five shots of the lead.
Good’s gambling analogy was entirely appropriate as Divonne is dominated by a sumptuous casino, but it is unlikely the croupiers would be rushing to offer odds on the outcome of Saturday’s final round with so many players tightly bunched and given the way many finished on Friday.
On a day when the sloping greens at Golf du Domaine Divonne quickened under bright sunshine, scoring proved harder for the majority of the field.
Ebihara displayed a hot putter for a best-of-the-day 67, that was matched by Eamonn Darcy, but for many others their fortunes changed dramatically over the closing four holes.
Rodriguez reached them off the back of a three-putt bogey at the par five 14th, but proceeded to reel off four birdies capped by a 30 foot putt on the 18th green, and catapult into contention.
“What a finish, hey!” proclaimed the effervescent Spaniard. “I have played really really well for two days and those four birdies to finish were fantastic - and I nearly eagled 17.”
Quiros did manage to eagle 17 and that sent him to six under par alongside his compatriot and Ebihara, as he looks to secure a second Seniors win after his success across the border in Switzerland last year.
Johnstone, however, was trying not to think about lifting the winner’s trophy after a stuttering round of 70 that featured seven birdies, three bogeys and one double bogey. A two-putt birdie at the par five 17th and a two at the 18th, when he knocked a majestic hybrid approach to five feet, saw him retain his overnight lead.
Johnstone said: “I was three over after five and it looked pretty ragged to be honest. But I kept my nose to the grindstone and churned out a few birdies, including a great finish with two birdies in the last two holes. That pulled a scrappy round back together. Given my start, I am happy with the way things turned out.
“I think I have been putting too much pressure on myself trying to force a win. I said to my caddie: ‘Let’s get back into the old habit we had on the main tour when I played shot by shot instead of thinking I want my first win’.
“I am trying to stay in the present and try not to think about it. When I win it will be great. The reason we are all out here is to compete. It’s a great sport when you can be out here over 50 and still competing. The Seniors Tour is wonderful.”
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