Ricardo Gonzalez leads by one at Gleneagles
Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie and Gareth Maybin best of the Irish on six under
Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez claimed a one-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Johnnie Walker Championship and will dedicate a fifth European Tour title to his late parents if he can secure victory at Gleneagles on Sunday.
On the Centenary Course which will host next year’s Ryder Cup, Gonzalez birdied his last five holes to card a second consecutive 65 for a 14-under-par total of 130. The 43-year-old’s last win came in 2009 and after failing to record a single top-10 finish this season he currently lies 109th on the Race to Dubai, with only the top 115 at the end of the year retaining their playing privileges for 2014. But the former caddie’s mind has understandably been elsewhere after his mother, father and father-in-law all passed away in the space of the last two years.
“The last two years have been very difficult personally,” Gonzalez said. “If I win I would like to dedicate it to my mother and father, that’s my target this week.”
Gonzalez has not played since failing to qualify for the Open Championship but arrived in Scotland refreshed after five weeks back at home in Rosario — birthplace of football star Lionel Messi — where he has a farm.
“It’s a very important week for me because I have not played well at the start of the season,” he added. “To shoot two rounds of 65 is amazing. I had five weeks’ rest to recharge my batteries. It’s strange because I’m a professional golfer and I need competition, but I’m feeling great after five weeks off. It has made me more relaxed and I think that’s the key to making a good score.”
Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger could not match the brilliant finish of Gonzalez, but still covered the back nine in 31 to add a 66 to his opening 65 and finish 13 under. The 27-year-old lost in a five-man play-off here two years ago but won twice last season and has already impressed Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.
“I played with Mr McGinley in the final round of the Scottish Open and afterwards he said he was very happy with my game and thinks I can play myself into the team. That’s something I really enjoyed hearing. It’s good that I have my name up there and even though qualifying has not started yet [it begins in Wales next week], it’s important to play well at the Ryder Cup venue and make a statement that way.”
McGinley, who ruled himself out of qualifying for the team as a player next year after an opening 68, returned a second round of 71 to lie nine off the lead on five under.
Shane Lowry and Gareth Maybin are on six under after 70s, alongside Peter Lawrie (67). The trio is two ahead of Michael Hoey (72) and three shots better off than Simon Thornton, who just made the cut with a 67. On one under, Gareth Shaw (69) missed the cut, as did Damien McGrane, whose 75 left him one over, and David Higgins, two over after a 74.
English duo Mark Foster and Tommy Fleetwood are 11 under after rounds of 67 and 65 respectively, with Foster admitting his search for a second European Tour victory 10 years after his first is always on his mind. The 38-year-old from Worksop also lost out in the play-off here in 2011 after a bogey on the 72nd hole and has let several other chances to win slip from his grasp.
“At the time it was not too bad, but as it went on I thought about it more, especially every time I step onto the 18th tee here now,” said Foster, whose sole victory to date came after a six-man play-off in the Dunhill Championship in South Africa in 2003. “I’m not one for regrets. I stayed positive and hit drives and just made a bad swing rather than choosing a bad club.”
Speaking about his other near-misses, Foster added: “Nobody thinks about it more than me. If I knew what it was I would have put it right. There have been occasions when I could have won but I have to keep putting myself in position and see what happens.”
Australia’s Brett Rumford, winner of back-to-back tournaments in Korea and China earlier this season and second here 12 months ago, was among those five off the lead after a 69, while defending champion Paul Lawrie was another two strokes back following a 67.
“I hit it lovely today and I am in there again,” said Lawrie, whose win 12 months ago came after he had already sealed his place on the Ryder Cup team for Medinah. “I think I will probably need a low weekend with the way the scoring is going but as long as you are in there you have a chance.”