Sugai defies form book at Co Down

 

GOLF:  Japan's Noboru Sugai stuck to his task admirably on a sun-drenched second day of the Mastercard Seniors British Open to extend his overnight lead from day one to four shots from a chasing pack which includes the pre-tournament favourite, Tom Watson.

The relatively unknown 52-year-old continues to defy the form book as a second consecutive 67 left Sugai with an eight-under-par 134 halfway aggregate, four shots ahead of Scotland's John Chillas, who also matched his first round score of 69.

Sugai marched over the Royal County Down links with a care-free attitude which got him to four-under by the time he reached the 15th. It was there, at one of the most difficult holes on the course, that his progress was halted with a double-bogey six after his tee-shot found a gorse bush.

But all credit to the winner of three titles on the Senior Japanese Tour, as he regrouped to make amends with birdies at the 17th and 18th.

"I was pleased with my finish but I will be looking over my shoulder because there are a lot of good players behind," said Sugai who would still prefer the wind to pick up at the Newcastle venue.

Although Watson was still not firing on all cylinders, the eight-time major winner's two-under 69, to leave him five shots adrift, was the first bogey-free round of the week.

"It was a solid round of golf, the problem was I never got my approaches close enough to make more birdies," he remarked after indicating a boring round by snoring at the press conference.

Watson used a six-iron to set up his two birdies. He reached the green at the par five first in two, then two-putted, and converted from eight feet at the 15th.

The 52-year-old American, who shares third alongside Canadian John Irwin (68), revealed how he was forced into changing his putting set-up mid-round to find a better touch on the slick greens. Watson also said he "would like to see more wind", suggesting it might be his best chance to catch Sugai.

Chillas (50), broke onto the Seniors last year with a reputation as being one of Scotland's leading coaches. The Glenbervie professional still works with the highly successful Stirling University golf team, and has coached players like Gordon Sherry when he was a prominent amateur and studying there several years ago. His record on the seniors circuit is equally impressive, with three top 10 finishes in just five starts last season.

On the home front, Christy O'Connor Jnr flattered to deceive during his 70 to be one-over. It leaves aspirations of winning a third Seniors British Open title some way off course, as four birdies and an eagle were countetred by a destructive double-bogey at the 15th and three bogeys.

Tipperary golfer Arthur Pierse is still on target to lift a second silver medal - he won it last year - as the leading amateur. The former Irish international and Walker Cup player played an inspired round of 69 for a seven-over total to safely make the cut by two shots. Only five of the 12 Irish starters made it into the weekend.