Sunday 18 August 2019

Halfway leader Zander Lombard finds missing link on return to seaside terrain

Zander Lombard. Photo: Sportsfile
Zander Lombard. Photo: Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

Zander Lombard has been searching for the missing link in his game for months and he found it at Lahinch with the links turf and sea breeze rewakening his best golf from its summer slumber.

He loves links terrain and after finding himself in position to become the first South African winner of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open since Bobby Locke won at Portmarnock in 1938, he's keen to take advantage.

The Pretoria native (24) arrived in Lahinch with his season on life support having missed his last six cuts in a row to slip to 106th in the Race to Dubai. But his love of links golf - he was runner-up to Bradley Neil in the 2014 Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush and contended in The Open last year before closing with an 82 - has stood him in good stead.

After regaining his card at the Q-School last year, when he claimed his lone professional win to date on the Sunshine Tour, he's thrived in west Clare and believes he can do more from here.

"It's really just hard graft the last three months," said Lombard (right), who leads by a shot on nine-under-par from the fun-loving Englishman Eddie Pepperell after following that scintillating 64 with a 67 yesterday. "I went through a bit of a bad spell missing a few cuts by one but just sticking to the process of my team it just came together at the right time, I suppose, and I'm happy with the results so far.

"I'm so comfortable on links golf," he said after mixing bogeys at the third and sixth with birdies at the second, eighth, 10th, 13th and 18th.

"It's never just a normal shot. It's always a little three-quarter, a little punch, judging the wind right. I've had great success on links golf in my amateur career. I don't know, it's just more good feelings, and hopefully, I can take it into the weekend."

Pepperell has surprised himself by contending having not played since the US PGA in June following some injury problems.

"I've actually been woken up the last couple nights at 3.0am by the locals, so I'm going to go buy myself some earplugs and try and get some more sleep," he joked. "Noisy, they're noisy around here. I get the feeling they like to drink a lot."

He loves the course's great variety and nuance and he was pleased to shoot 67 in the wind and misty rain that greeted the morning starters.

"I am pretty surprised," he said. "I guess what's more surprising is I don't feel like I've played great, but I've been kind of steady. And my short game and putting has been very good, which I wasn't expecting. I really had no idea where I was standing at, so to have this performance through two rounds is certainly a nice surprise. I'm comfortable in this position, so I'm expecting myself just to keep pushing forward."

As for Lahinch, he loves that he's forced to hit driver often and he accepts the blind shots at the Klondyke and Dell for what they are.

"I think those two holes there are definitely quirky to say the least, but the rest makes up for it," he said. "Actually I think six through to 12 are spectacular, and then the beginning and the end plays pretty well. It's a proper course. It's good to play."

Spain's Jorge Campillo shot a six-under 64 to jump into a share of third with Mexican invitee Abraham Ancer and the evergreen Lee Westwood, who both shot 67s. Westwood recovered from early bogeys at the third and fourth with three birdies in a row from the seventh and two more at the 12th and 14th on what is proving to be a fruitful 24th Irish Open appearance.

"You know, everybody should have the chance to come play Lahinch," he said. "It's a fantastic golf course - it really examines every part of your game.

"If you hit the ball well, it gives you a few chances, and if you start getting out of position, it's punishing. That's all you can really ask from a golf course."

Irish Independent

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