Sunday 21 January 2018

Thornton and Higgins on Italian glory trail

Simon Thornton. Photo: Sportsfile
Simon Thornton. Photo: Sportsfile

SIMON THORNTON and David Higgins took markedly different routes to Turin, but go into the weekend at the Lindt Open d'Italia with precisely the same objectives on a pretty, tree-lined golf course which suits them both to a tee.

Thornton, who burst from the relative obscurity of the Challenge Tour by brilliantly claiming his first European Tour win at St Omer in June, shared the lead on nine-under-par with Golf Club de Torino member Francesco Molinari and Chilean Felipe Aguilar. The 36-year-old Newcastle, Co Down, resident played sublimely in a five-under-par round of 67 .

Thornton's future on Tour is secure after that confidence-boosting success in Brittany, but Higgins (40) is locked in grim battle to save his card.

Yet the Waterville native performed with such precision this week, it's uncanny to think he's made the cut for only the ninth time in 18 outings this year and currently wallows at 163rd in the Order of Merit.

The quiet Kerryman always had a touch of class, which clearly showed as he compiled rounds of 67 and 69 here to share fourth place with Belgium's Ryder Cup ace Nicolas Colsaerts and England's Steve Webster, both of whom hit the ball a lot further.

Higgins and Thornton sang from exactly the same hymn sheet as they discussed the task facing them over the final 36 holes.

"If you keep hitting the fairways on this course and you manage (your game), you'll get a lot of opportunities," said Higgins. "I'm good at that and I've got to keep doing that. It's nice to be in the hunt. This is a good course for me and I've a chance here, which is great.

"A lot of the other courses on Tour are very long and you're trying to hit it over corners and the like," he added. "Yet this one requires you to just hit it down the middle all day long and I like doing that. I just feel comfortable and confident on it."

Thornton is Yorkshire-born, but settled in Co Down, where he and Ciara, a local girl, are rearing their two children. Now an Irish citizen, he's got an hybrid accent, but he and Higgins spoke the same language yesterday.

"There's lots of chances if you hit the fairways here and that's what I've done so far," explained Thornton, who clearly hasn't been hampered this week by an injury to his left thumb, which is heavily strapped.

"It's great to be in contention and to go into the weekend in this position, but it doesn't really change anything. You still have to pick your shots and commit to every one of them."

Golf Club de Torino is like a shrine to Francesco Molinari and his elder brother Edoardo and their trophies are prominently displayed in the clubhouse ... yet Higgins and Thornton will be hoping to dash the hopes of an excited home crowd this weekend.

One other Irishman made the cut as Damien McGrane shared 25th on four-under after a second-round 69.

Open d'Italia,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 12.0

Irish Independent

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