independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Casey's dog-leg with a difference

Branden Grace may have been setting the pace at the top of the Dunhill Links Championship leaderboard, but Paul Casey would be forgiven for thinking that the round two script had been composed by Brendan Grace.

Former world No 3 Casey had his ball stolen by a dog while lining up an eagle putt yesterday.

On the green of Kingsbarns' par-five 12th hole in two, the Englishman could only watch as the animal ran away with his ball into the rough.

Casey, playing with the most decorated Olympian ever, American swimmer Michael Phelps in the $5m Pro-Am event which takes in three courses in Scotland, later carded a birdie after the delay.

Despite a second-round 69, Casey has little else to smile about as his three-under-par total leaves him 14 shots behind the South African Grace.

Casey may have been taking notes from his Olympic champion partner. It might not beat his 22 Olympics medals -- 18 of them gold -- when Phelps looks back on his life, but the swimmer had another sporting moment to savour as the 27-year-old 'Baltimore Bullet' sank a 50-yard putt on the sixth.

"It was the longest putt I've ever had and to see it go in was a pretty cool feeling," Phelps said.

Playing off a 16-handicap -- "he's got more Olympic golds than he has shots," said Casey -- the monster putt gave Phelps a net hole-in-one at the 337-yard sixth, and he followed it with a net eagle.

Grace holds the biggest halfway lead of the European Tour season after a second-round 67 at St Andrews.

Having begun the £3m pro-celebrity event with an incredible Tour record-equalling 60 at Kingsbarns, the 24-year-old South African marched five strokes clear by reaching 17-under-par at halfway.

When he putted for eagle on the 357-yard last, Grace had a chance to match the circuit's lowest-ever 36-hole total in relation to par, but he happily settled for a two-putt birdie, and so the mark set by compatriot Ernie Els at the 2004 Heineken Classic in Australia still stands.

"I just don't really know what's going on," said the Pretoria golfer, who was outside the world's top 300 less than a year ago -- he came through Tour qualifying school and now has a chance of a fifth victory of the season.

The fourth came last Sunday in his home country's winter series and was overshadowed by Europe's miraculous Ryder Cup comeback.

"A win is a win," he added. "It gives you confidence and puts a fire in you. I'm still just running with it."

Dane Thorbjorn Olesen and Swede Joel Sjoholm are in joint second place, and you have to look a long way way down the leaderboard to find many of the big names.

German Martin Kaymer, the man who sank the all-important putt for Jose Maria Olazabal's side in Chicago, is doing best of the three returning heroes, but he is down in 56th place on three-under -- 14 strokes adrift.

Swede Peter Hanson is one further back, but Paul Lawrie is joint 129th on one-over -- and only the top 60 and ties survive the cut.

The one thing in their favour is that they still have St Andrews to play, whereas Grace has Carnoustie to come and that is by far the stiffest test of the three.

Also in a fight to stay around for tomorrow's closing 18 holes at St Andrews are British Open champion Els on one-under, two-time winner Padraig Harrington on level-par and last year's British Open winner Darren Clarke, who is alongside Lawrie. Shane Lowry is best of the Irish on six-under-par

Lawrie is playing with his 17-year-old son Craig and did not mind admitting that the scratch-handicapper outscored him in the second round, albeit off forward tees.

"He played lovely and was four-under on his own ball -- I'm very proud of him," said the 1999 British Open champion, who had to be content with a two-under 70 himself.

Dunhill Links Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 1.30

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