IT WAS the man who spends the most time with Marc Warren after his wife, Laura, and son, Archie, that hit the nail on the head about the Scot’s second-day effort in the £3 million British Masters at Woburn.
“The Marc of old could have been going home,” said Ken Herring, his trusty caddie, as the 34-year-old was signing for what had been a battling level-par 71 that left him just three shots off the lead heading into the weekend.
“It could have been anything between a 71 and 81,” added Herring, whose arrival on Warren’s bag just under two years ago has coincided with his rise up the world rankings.
Flawless on his first circuit on the Marquess’ Course, Warren’s second outing was anything but. His drive at the second found an unplayable lie through the fairway, costing him a double-bogey 6. He dropped further down the leaderboard after letting another shot slip at the short sixth. As Herring hinted, things would have gone from bad to worse following a similar start at one time, but Warren, having climbed to within touching distance of a world top-50 spot on the back of some notable performances in the big events, is made of sterner stuff these days.
“After what happened at the second, I was just trying to limit the damage a little bit, and it just felt I was fighting for par on every hole,” he said afterwards. “Luckily, my putting today inside 10 feet was really solid. I holed some really good par putts to keep me going and I managed to play my way back into it.”
He did so with a grandstand finish. “Three good shots” secured a birdie at the par-5 15th, before he made further gains against the card at the 17th, courtesy of a 7-iron to six feet, and the 18th, where he knocked a majestic 8-iron to less than three feet.
The welcome late burst took him back to six-under, where he’s lying joint eighth, with the two halfway pacesetters, Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick and Dane Soren Kjeldsen, within touching distance with 36 holes to go in the battle for a £500,000 top prize. “Over the last few holes my game was a lot better and the two iron shots I hit in at the 17th and 18th were both really good,” said Warren, who has matured as a player and person over the last few seasons. “I am a lot more tired after today’s round compared to yesterday’s 65, but then I would say a round like that today a few years ago would have definitely got away from me.
“It’s not only an example of how well I feel I can turn around a poor start, but also an example of how well I’m thinking, as well. My swing wasn’t feeling good and I wasn’t hitting good shots, but I kept hanging in there, and just keeping the swing thought in my head and we saw that with some really good swings to finish.”
While 40-year-old Kjeldsen, winner of the Irish Open at Royal County Down earlier in the season, is ominously placed at the halfway stage after backing up his opening 65 with a 68, it’s Fitzpatrick, a player 19 years his junior, who is likely to be the main focus of attention with the English fans today – just under 30,000 have flocked here on the opening two days to welcome the event’s return after a seven-year absence – as he bids to rubber-stamp an eye-catching run of form since the middle of June by landing a breakthrough win on the European Tour.
Victory tomorrow would see the Sheffield youngster double his season’s earnings to £1m, meaning he could splash out on a new car and put a stop to the ribbing he’s been getting from some of his fellow players for the motor he drives at the moment. “It’s a four or five-year-old Ford Mondeo,” revealed Fitzpatrick, who finished second to compatriot Danny Willett in the European Masters in Switzerland and has also finished third on three other occasions in the last few months. “But I’m not complaining about that because a member of my golf club gave it to me and I only pay for the petrol, so it’s a great deal.”
Pick of some fancy ones in the players’ car park here is a dark blue Ferrari – one of six he owns – being driven by Ian Poulter, the tournament host. “I’d take six Ferraris, but I’m not focused on anything like that at the minute. Unfortunately I started having my good results after the good deals on cars had finished. I’ll have to wait for next year now. but I’d rather buy a house first, I think,” added Fitzpatrick, who is clearly a canny Yorkshireman and should be applauded for being so in an era when successful sportsmen and sportswomen splash the cash with apparent gay abandon.
Smiling, Fitzpatrick happily declared his car had “cruise control”. His game is in that mode, too, at the moment, but he’s determined not to put too much pressure on himself as he bids to add his name to a roll of honour that includes a host of major champions. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he insisted after bagging his fifth birdie of the day at the ninth – his last, having earlier chipped in for another gain at the third. “Hopefully it (a win) will come in time, but it’s not something I’m absolutely chasing at the minute. I’m more focused on moving up the world rankings and getting into Augusta, where I was lucky enough to play as an amateur and it would be great to go back there as a pro.”
Closest to the two leaders, a shot back, are Englishman Richard Bland and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, while Warren was joined in making the cut by two of his compatriots. David Drysdale is on one-under, one ahead of Craig Lee, who survived despite fearing that two dropped shots in his last three holes might mean an early exit as he battles to hang on to his card.