Rose leads the way by one shot as Irish quartet try to stay in touch

Sat, Jan 19, 2013, 00:00

In a world ruled by TV, there are two ways to see this HSBC Golf Championship now, shorn as it is of its two biggest names. Look down and it’s time to sound a lament for the viewing figures around the world.

Already on at an awkward time in both Europe and the US, a Roryless and Tigerless weekend ought to ensure that the measure of bums fastened to seats with eyes on the screen will be low. On the upside, however, at least now those tuning in will get to see a lot more of the players who are actually competing in the tournament.

Justin Rose takes a single-stroke lead into the weekend, his 69 yesterday a solid doubling down on the opening bid he’d made with his 67 on Thursday. At eight under par, he’s a shot clear of a trio of European tour journeymen – Jamie Donaldson of Wales, Spain’s Gonzalo Fernando-Castano and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.

The kind of players who will have their weeks from time to time but who are nearly-but-not-quiters for much of any given season. Solid players all but doomed to tootle away in relative anonymity when the bigger cats are in town.

Not this weekend though. With McIlroy and Woods not around to suck in all the facetime on screen and followers on course, the lesser lights will have their pot.

A bit more sparkle

Two back of Irish Open champion Donaldson’s group are Garth Mulroy and Joost Luiten, with a large group on four under including a bit more sparkle in the shape of Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer and Matteo Manassero among others. It isn’t exactly a line-up to shiver Broadway’s timbers but it’s what they’re left with and it’s not nothing.

Rose played exactly as the top-ranked player left in the field should yesterday. He hit half his fairways and found 16 greens in regulation.

Had he putted to anything like the standard he set on Thursday when his 26 putts went much of the way to securing him his spot at the top of the leaderboard, he’d have clear water between him and the rest of them by now. As it was, he needed a kick-in birdie at the last – the result of a brilliant approach to a couple of feet – to break 70 and leave himself on a very tidy mark of eight-under heading into the weekend.

“Yeah, that was a nice way to finish,” he said. “I guess any time you break 70 right at the end, it’s always good. Like for anybody, when they break 80 and shoot a 79, you feel better. Same with 70. Nice to have a little one for a tap-in. I would say that epitomised my iron play today. I felt like I hit it pin-high and awful lot and I guess that often tells you that you are swinging the club well.”

Four birdies

Rose posted four birdies in his round and has only dropped two shots altogether over the opening two days. He will be chased all the way by the very impressive young Dane Olesen who has only dropped a single one. On what appeared to be a good day for scoring – Pádraig Harrington described playing conditions as “very easy, as long as you drive it in the fairway” – Fernandez-Costano shot the only 67, the best round of the day.

It’s the group on four-under par who look likely to pose Rose et al the most problems. Dufner’s 69 was a 66 in raggedy clothing, some sumptuous iron play sullied by putts that just wouldn’t drop. Kaymer dropped three shots in three holes coming up to the turn but the ease with which he picked them back up on the back nine looked ominous. And Manassero frequently looked like he could catch fire and burn through the undergrowth, going out in a flawless 32 but unable to press it home.

As for the Irish, Gareth Maybin’s second successive 71 left him tied for 24th and two-under par with Harrington and Peter Lawrie settling for 72s to leave them at level par in a tie for 36th. Michael Hoey was the sole remaining survivor, his 73 getting him in at one over par as Paul McGinley (73), Damien McGrane (74), Shane Lowry (73), Darren Clarke (75) and McIlroy (75) all handsomely missed the cut.

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