HE’S going to have to do it the hard way. For starters, playing today with world No 1 Rory McIlroy. There’s also the small matter of chasing Henrik Stenson, the defending champion. At the halfway stage in the DP World Tour Championship, however, Richie Ramsay is relishing the chance to land the biggest win of his career.
“A great two days lie ahead,” declared the Aberdonian after following his opening 67 with a 69 at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai to sit joint-second on eight-under alongside McIlroy and Englishman Danny Willett, the trio trailing pacesetter Stenson by two shots. “I’ve got to embrace it, have fun and hopefully the golf will take care of itself,” added Ramsay.
Taking care of both McIlroy and Stenson, not to mention the likes of Scottish Open champion Justin Rose, who is in the group just three off the lead, would easily be the most significant achievement in Ramsay’s career, which has so far produced two European Tour triumphs.
Can he pull it off? It will require him playing out of his skin but yes. With McIlroy in the field, Ramsay had the scent of victory in his nostrils in the Dunhill Links Championship last month only to be pipped at the post by Oliver Wilson. The odd blip apart – in Turkey last week, for instance – the Scot has enjoyed a splendid second half to the season and now he’s given himself an opportunity to sign off 2014 in style.
“It’s great to be up there,” admitted Ramsay. “I came here with a few goals that I want to achieve. For instance, it would be nice to get into the Royal Trophy (the eighth edition of the match between Asia and Europe is being played in China next month) as I love team golf, so that’s one of them.”
One behind joint-overnight leaders McIlroy and Shane Lowry at the outset, Ramsay did most of his good work on the back nine, starting the journey for home by rolling in a 40-foot birdie putt at the tenth. An eagle-2 followed at the 14th and after then making a birdie at the next he held the outright lead until he bogeyed the 16th and Stenson birdied both that and the last.
“I played pretty steady and it keeps me close to the leaders.,” said Ramsay. “It’s tricky out there as the greens are firming up and you can’t attack all the flags. I got it going on the back nine and was a little bit unfortunate at the last. I hit a great drive but found an old divot so couldn’t go for the green. All in all, it was a good day’s work as anything under 70 out there has got to be pleasing.
“You had to be selective about when to be aggressive and when to be patinet and I did that really well. But the most important thing was that for the second day in a row my attitude was really good.”
Stenson, whose win at the same venue 12 months ago ensured he became the first man to win the Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup in the same year, added a 66 to his opening 68 to sit on ten-under. “There’s still a lot of golf to play and I’m really happy with how I closed this round,” said the Swede, who was 25-under-par in winning by six shots last year.
“Around the 12th hole I felt like I was running out of steam. It was difficult mentally from there on. I had to really focus hard and drag myself over the finish line. It’s hot and sticky and even though I’m drinking well and getting plenty of energy, I just felt like I hit the wall on 12. If it’s one or two holes left, you normally feel like, ‘okay, I can hang on’. But it was a bit of an uphill (struggle) from there. I managed to finish in good style anyway so I’m pleased with that.”
Playing his first tournament after a six-week lay-off, McIlroy could only add a scrappy 70 to his flawless opening 66, carding four birdies, two bogeys and a par on the seventh after a mis-hit second shot with a 5-wood which he described as “a fat, low, duck-hook runner that was not intentional”.
The four-times major winner recovered from the shock of hitting that shot like a high handicapper and a bogey on the 12th with birdies on the 14th and 15th, only to three-putt the 16th and drive into the water on the last.
“I’m in a good position and there is a lot of golf left,” McIlroy added. “I’ve definitely been in worse positions after two rounds and still won.
“It could have been worse but it probably could have been a little better. I definitely didn’t have it like I did yesterday. I had to dig in a little bit so hopefully that’s the bad one out of the way and I have 36 holes now to make some ground up on Henrik.”
Aided by a hole-in-one on the 13th – his first as a professional – Shane Lowry is alongside Rose, while a flawless four-under 68 from Stephen Gallacher lifted him 13 spots into a tie for 17th on four-under. “This is the best I’ve played all year, I’d say,” confessed Gallacher. “Genuinely. I’ve only missed two fairways with my driver.”
Marc Warren, the other Scot in the season-ending event, is tied for 26th on two-under after a brace of 71s.