Italy’s Costantino Rocca rolled back the years to fire an eight under par 62 and roar into contention at the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open in Switzerland, where Zimbabwe’s Tony Johnstone holed in one in his score of 65, but it is England’s Carl Mason who leads the way by one stroke on 11 under par after a second round of 64.
The Golf Club Bad Ragaz, nestled in The Alps, proved conducive to low scoring on day two of the European Seniors Tour event, and red numbers littered the scorecards of those competing for the €31,500 first prize.
With the tight, tree-lined 6,152 yard course again wet and playing longer due to overnight rain, preferred lies were in operation – and Rocca took advantage with some red-hot golf as he surged through the field to the top of the leaderboard until Mason displaced him.
Out in 33, Rocca, the 1996 PGA Championship winner at Wentworth Club and conqueror of Tiger Woods in the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama in their Singles match, hit six birdies in a row from the 11th hole onwards to get to ten under par, coming home in just 29 shots.
Rocca, winner of the AIB Irish Seniors Open in June, is enjoying his debut senior season, and said: “It is my best golf for a long time. Ten years ago, in 1997, I shot a 62 at Crans-sur-Sierre, so I like Switzerland, yes. I hit my irons very close today, but you still need to make the putt.
“I missed a short putt on ten but holed a good putt on 11, and all of a sudden I clicked. I found good rhythm, which is very important. The best one I put on the 14th, the par three, which I put it to a foot. I just hope I can carry on tomorrow.”
Rocca’s playing partner Terry Gale, winner at Bad Ragaz in 2005, said: “He played fantastic golf and his irons were a joy to watch.”
Mason, who opened with a 65, continued his fine play with a round that had seven birdies and just one dropped shot. Finding the conditions to his liking, he got off to a flier, with birdies at the opening three holes, in an outward nine of 31 strokes, before coming back in 33.
He said: “The start was perfect – and certainly makes your round that little bit easier. I hit to six feet at the first, knocked it stiff on the second for a tap in, and holed from 10 feet on the third – so we’re off and running straight away.
“Anytime you’re in a position to win is exciting – you’ve just got to take your chances when they come. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and playing with Costantino. Hopefully, I’ll do enough to win.”
Overnight co-leader, Scotland’s Steve Martin, will go out in the penultimate group, which he was happy to hear after admitting to some nerves during his second round while playing in the last group of the day with Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Northern Ireland’s Jimmy Heggarty.
The Dundee man went out in 35 and back in 32 for his three under par 67. He said: “I’ve got no complaints. There was a wee bit more pressure today, playing in the final three-ball, as I’ve not had that experience for a long time. I three-putted the first, so didn’t get off to the best of starts, but I birdied the par five fourth hole and that settled me down.
“I played a good back nine. There’s only one leaderboard on the back nine, on the 16th, so I wasn’t looking at the scores. But I think I’ll be in the last group and playing with Costantino and Carl, so I’ll look forward to it. We’ll see what tomorrow holds.”
After his 65, Tony Johnstone was left to ponder whether he had room for a brand new A170 Mercedes at home in Sunningdale after holing in one on the 17th and winning the car.
“I think it’s worth £16,000 – £20,000, so I’m going to ask for a cheque, and put it in my pocket,” he laughed. “I haven’t got space for any more cars at home on the driveway.
“I just bought my 17 year old daughter Lauren a car, unfortunately, a month ago. My wife Karen’s got a new car, about a year old, and I’ve got two little fun cars. So we’ve got five cars on the driveway – it’s too much! But I’m not going to say no to another one, after that shot.”
Talking about his ace, he said: “It was a six iron. I absolutely nailed it straight down the flag, which was at the front. It pitched just short of the green and took a firm bounce – which was quite a bit of luck really, as the fringes are quite soft – dead straight forward. It rolled up and in dead centre.
“I could see it in all the way, as the 17th is a raised tee. There’s nothing worse than getting a hole in one and not seeing it because of a mound or something in the way. We just tracked it all the way in and there were quite a few people who saw it too, which was nice.
“That was my sixth hole in one in my career. I’ve been quite lucky – it’s my third car. I won a Mercedes station wagon in the German Open in 1980, and a Volvo at Moor Park in 1984. I’m doing well.”
He also picks up a Hardy's bottle of wine for every yard of the hole, but what most pleased Johnstone, however, was his overall score and the way he performed on the greens.
“I birdied three in a row – four, five and six – played really well all day, but didn’t really hit it close enough on the rest of the way around. I had a few that shaved the hole, and three putted on 16 after getting on in two, for a par five. That was my only mistake of the day.
“I was bitching and moaning about three-putting and then get a hole in one. It’s a lovely game. I’m very happy with my 65, as that is probably my best putting round in the last two years. I’ve been putting miserably. I came off the course yesterday and said to my caddie, ’I’m not going to hit another practice ball. I’m just going to putt and get it sorted.’”
Northern Ireland’s Eddie Polland, playing in the group behind Johnstone, almost followed suit, but pitched inches behind the cup. He joked: “I won one three years ago, so don’t need it.” He signed for 67, a score he professed to be “very happy with.”
Another feeling good was England’s David J Russell, who shot a 64 as he continues to recover from pulling a muscle in his lower back.
He birdied the third hole, rolling in a 15 footer for a two, holed out from 10 feet on the eighth hole for an outward 33. Coming home, Russell holed from six feet at the 13th, eagled the 484-yard par five 16th by holing from 25 feet, and then had another birdie two on 17 after draining a 15 foot effort.
He said: “I’m back – I just need to hole a few putts to compete. It was nice to putt well, as I’ve been leaving the ball short. It’s confidence. I started rolling the ball out a bit better and I’m pleased, because it’s a tricky course and isn’t one that really suits me that much.
“You have to fiddle it around the trees. I’d rather stand up and hit it, but I’m happy with the score and that I’m starting to do better. I’ve had a horrific season up until last week at the Wentworth Senior Masters, but I’m pleased I’m getting back to where I feel I belong, and challenging.”
Scotland’s Bill Longmuir shot a 66 that included five birdies. He said: “I was steady. I missed a lot of putts but did feel I was a bit more threatening on the greens. So there’s definitely an improvement, as I’ve been struggling to hole putts for a long time. But I feel as if I’ve turned a corner here.
“My stroke's a little bit more stable. Although they’re not going in so often, I feel they’ve got more of a chance now. It’s better than it has been. It’s been a miserable year up until now and it’s been frustrating. It goes back through your game when you’re not holing putts when you hit good shots. It’s getting a bit better, but a good day tomorrow is what I need.”
Defending champion Juan Quiros of Spain shot 65 to be three off the pace on an eight under par, 132 total.
|T2||RUSSELL, David J||ENG||18||-10|