Wednesday 21 February 2018

McGrane digs deep to stay in mix

William S Callahan

DAMIEN McGRANE kept his name in the frame entering the weekend at The Ballantine's Championship.

The Kells man scrambled manfully for a second-round 72 at Blackstone Golf Club in Icheon, South Korea to sustain his hopes of clinching a second European Tour victory.

After taking the first-round lead with a polished 66 on Thursday, McGrane found the going tougher yesterday as he fell back into a tie for fourth on six-under, four behind leader Brett Rumford.

Aussie short-game specialist Rumford swept up nine birdies with his broom-handle putter during the sensational bogey-free 63 which put him three strokes clear of his nearest challengers, Soren Kjeldsen and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Rumford had been so frustrated with his form in recent weeks, he'd considered pulling out of the Ballantine's and heading back to London for a week's practice before upcoming Tour events in Spain.

"Just shows what a funny game golf is," said Rumford, who counts the 2004 Irish Open at Baltray among his three career victories on the European circuit. "One week you're waiting to give up and the next it gives you a nice little surprise."

Jimenez looked the most dangerous of Rumford's rivals as he posted a second-round 67 blighted only by a couple of three-putts on Blackstone's steeply contoured greens.

"He will feel my breath on the back of his neck this weekend," joked the Spanish veteran, who this week has rediscovered his masterful touch.

Jimenez (47) has secured 12 of his 18 European tournament wins since turning 40. Five of those victories have been in Asia, and few would bet against him extending that remarkable tally tomorrow.

McGrane turned 40 three weeks ago, but the Meath man has looked fitter and sharper over the past fortnight in China and Korea than he had in a subdued opening three months to his season.

After landing eight birdies on Thursday, McGrane spent much of yesterday putting to save par, which, he confessed, "is a dangerous game to play. I left myself under more pressure around the greens today. I didn't hit it close enough, sort of hit wrong clubs a few times, leaving myself with a lot of chipping and putting to do," he added.

"Instead of having putts from 15 feet for birdie, as I did on Thursday, I had them from four or six feet, and even further, for pars."

Yet he firmly believes he has every chance of bridging the three-year gap to his solitary win on Tour at the 2008 China Open.

"I still think I've a good score in me -- there's more in it for me this weekend," McGrane concluded. "Level-par was a slight disappointment."

At least McGrane and his four fellow Irishmen in Korea lived to fight another day at this championship. Ian Poulter, Ernie Els and Korea's solitary Major champion YE Yang were prominent among those who missed the cut.

Paul McGinley went into the weekend in a tie for 18th on three-under after a second-round 70. Though he slipped up with a bogey six on his opening hole yesterday, the Dubliner rebounded with a hat-trick of birdies at three, four and five, picked up another shot at 10 and, after a bogey five at 11, came home with seven straight pars.

In stark contrast to Thursday, when he leaked six shots on his last six, Shane Lowry picked up three birdies in the final five holes of yesterday's second-round 70, lifting him into a tie for 29th place on two-under with Gareth Maybin (70), among others.

Michael Hoey squeezed through the cut on one-over after a 74.

On four-under after a second-round 68, Lee Westwood was still in contention for a victory which would ensure he hangs onto the world No 1 spot even if Luke Donald wins in New Orleans -- where Graeme McDowell slumped out of the Zurich Classic yesterday after a three-over-par 75 -- his third missed cut in four events.

The US Open champion now has nine days off at home in Orlando to work on his ailing game before resuming competitive action in the Players Championship at Sawgrass the week after next.

Though he holed a seven-foot putt for birdie on 10, his opener, yesterday, McDowell's hopes of making the weekend nosedived when he followed bogeys at 13 and 14 with his second double-bogey in 24 hours at 15.

McDowell was 14 shy of the clubhouse lead held by Bubba Watson (68). Donald was still in contention on five-under after a 71.

Rory McIlroy takes a symbolic step forward in his career this weekend. He'll edge ahead of the fading Tiger Woods in the world rankings for the first time as he prepares for next week's title defence at the Wells Fargo Championship in Quail Hollow.

The Ballantine's Championship

Live, Sky Sports 1/4, 6.0/11.0

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Live, Sky Sports 3, 9.0

Irish Independent

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