Lorenzo Gagli had every reason to play with a smile on his face yesterday — and not just for the second-round 66 that propelled the Italian on to the Irish Open leaderboard at Royal Portrush.
Starting yesterday with a spring in his step following Italy’s Euro 2012 semi-final success over Germany — which he watched with fellow Italian pros Francesco Molinari, Andrea Pavan and Federico Colombo in his rented apartment — “It was a noisy room” — Gagli began sinking birdies with the same ruthlessness shown by Mario Balotelli.
As he came off the 18th green, his six-under-par round paled into insignificance compared to the feats of his beloved Azzurri.
“Did you see Balotelli?” asked Gagli, excitedly. “It was a great match from great players like [Andrea] Pirlo and Balotelli.”
Gagli is friends with Italian midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, who plays for the Florentine’s hometown team Fiorentina and shares a business manager with the golfer, who also has a soft spot for the club’s former boss, now Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.
“I think Prandelli has done great work because he made the squad half old and half young, it’s a nice combination.”
As for former boss Giovanni Trapattoni, current Ireland head coach, Gagli is not so convinced, adding: “Trapattoni’s a legend but he plays always defensively. To win now you have to attack.”
For British Open champion Darren Clarke, a rest was as good as a change as the rigours of possessing the Auld Claret Jug were temporarily relieved by a groin injury that knocked him out of action for a month.
Clarke is playing his hometown course this week at Royal Portrush, where he completed the first 36 holes in four under par, having been forced to miss the US Open due to injury. And while missing a Major was not welcome, Clarke says there were plenty of positives to be taken from the enforced break after a prolonged dip in form.
“Massively,” he said. “I needed to get away, I needed to have a little bit if a break and I’ve had a wonderful time in Portrush.
“I’ve spent very little time here since last July. I have been away on the road all the time and I just wore myself down and got tired and consequently made silly mistakes despite not playing too bad and taking too many shots. So, my injury has been a blessing in disguise.”
One of his final acts before the title defence begins on July 19 will be presenting the trophy to the R&A’s Junior Open champion down the Lancashire coast from Royal Lytham & St Annes at Fairhaven.
“I’m going to Lytham, I’ll go the week before to the Junior Open. Consequently I can’t play the Scottish [Open] but the R&A have asked me to do that and I am more than happy to do that.”
Former Irish Open champion Shane Lowry may be only 25 years old but this week he found himself being the senior partner for the first two rounds after the draw paired him with Italian 19-year-old Matteo Manassero and England’s Danny Willett, six months his junior.
Lowry also reached the halfway mark with the lowest score, his four-under total comfortably outscoring Manassero’s one under and Willett on three over, a situation the newly crowned BMW International Open champion found difficult to take as he was ferried to the recorder’s hut from the ninth green.
“Danny obviously didn’t do too well but I said to him coming back in the car on the way back [after the first round], ‘stop giving out, you only won five days ago’,” Lowry said.
No crowd trouble
This year’s Irish Open remains on track to bring in more than 100,000 spectators over the four days after yesterday’s second round attendance figure brought the total for the first two rounds past 50,000.
The event was a sell-out before a ball was struck on Thursday morning, a record first for a regular European Tour event, with 27,000 tickets sold in advance for each of the four rounds, under-16s being admitted free of charge.
The bad weather on Thursday deterred some from using their tickets with the Tour announcing an opening-day attendance of 23,283 but yesterday’s second round attracted 27,914 spectators.