Colin Montgomerie’s first European Tour course is doing exactly what he hoped it would – stretching the best.
Montgomerie himself said he was “exhausted” at the halfway stage of the Nissan Irish Open at Carton House near Dublin, while Darren Clarke said he was having as much fun as he would on a trip to the dentist.
Both are still in the hunt for the title with two rounds to go, but leading the way overnight was Welshman Stephen Dodd, one of the success stories of the season so far.
After 10 trips to the qualifying school, the 38-year-old from Cardiff won the China Open last November and, in March, Ernie Els needed an eagle at the last hole to beat him in Dubai.
A closing birdie yesterday lifted Dodd, British amateur champion back in 1989 and a member of the first Britain and Ireland Walker Cup side to win on American soil that year, to five under par.
“Yeah it is a bit tough, but it is nice to play some tough courses where 72 means something rather than a couple of 72s you miss the cut,” he commented.
“It has been a great six months obviously. I could not have asked for it to go any better, to be honest.
“If you do win a tournament it gives you the belief that you can do it again and that is what has happened to me. My results suggest I am a better player. I probably do not hit the ball any better, but I do things in a more confident manner.
“I am taking each week as I go and my goal now is to play in the Open. Troon in 1989 was the only time and I can’t remember much about it.”
Dodd missed the halfway cut, just as he did in the Masters the following April and as a professional he has made seven attempts to qualify for the Open and failed every time.
Eighth on the Order of Merit, he can start planning for St Andrews in July - and if he can climb to second after next week’s BMW Championship he will be exempt for next month’s US Open as well and will then have to decide whether to change plans to go on holiday to Dubai that week.
Nick Dougherty, joint second with David Howell, Bradley Dredge and Swede Pelle Edberg, has yet to play in any major championship.
But after winning his first tour title in Singapore in January the 22-year-old from Liverpool is another on the up.
“I would like to think I could win at least two or three times this year,” stated Dougherty. “I think that would be a great year, but playing at St Andrews would be great too.”
Howell simply wants to win once. The Swindon golfer was part of the record-breaking Ryder Cup team last September but he has not tasted solo success since Dubai in 1999 – and last Sunday bogeyed the last hole to fall into a play-off at the British Masters and then lost it with another bogey.
Montgomerie has five strokes to make up, the same as Lee Westwood, while Clarke, Padraig Harrington, new Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Jose Maria Olazabal are all in the group one further shot back.
“The course was built for four or five under to win,” said Montgomerie. “The field is fairly bunched and I am glad I am in the bunch.”