Senior Open: Langer shares lead as Royal Birkdale bites

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DAVID Frost had an impact at both ends of the scoreboard as Royal Birkdale, despite being less fiery, continued to prove every bit as demanding as Muirfield last week in the £1.3 million Senior Open Championship.

At the business part of the proceedings, the South African is in contention for a first over-50s major after carding a second successive 68 to sit third, a shot behind joint-leaders Bernhard Langer and Mark Wiebe, as only 12 players lie under par at the halfway stage.

Langer, the 2010 winner, overcame a one-shot penalty for a double-hit in thick rough at the sixth to card a 67 for a five-under total of 135, which was matched by Wiebe as the American, playing in the fourth last group, birdied four of the last six holes for a day’s best 65.

“It’s a terrible feeling, but that sort of thing can happen out there in the long grass,” said the German, who, playing with his usual efficiency from tee to green and putting better than he did on the opening day, is on course to make amends for the disappointment of losing out to Fred Couples in this event at Turnberry 12 months ago after leading going into the final round.

“I love the position I’m in right now,” declared the two-times Masters champion, who was denied the outright lead by Wiebe’s late thrust, the pair being chased by Frost, with Zimbabwean-born Mark McNulty, Australian Peter Fowler and American Gene Sauers all a further shot adrift and Sandy Lyle sharing seventh spot on two-under.

No matter what transpires over the final two rounds, Frost has already shown his class by helping a unheralded fellow competitor to have the courage to step back on to the tee again yesterday after a nightmare opening round on the Lancashire links.

Not since Maurice Flitcroft shot 121 in trying to qualify for the 1976 Open Championship has a scorecard looked as ugly in an R&A-run event as Jan Lubienecki’s first-day 89 – which, in fairness, was one of only a dozen rounds this year – that included a triple-bogey and seven double-bogeys.

“I started fine, but then it all fell apart,” said the 51-year-old, who had been pipped in a ten-man play-off in one of the qualifiers earlier in the week but became the first Polish professional to play in a major when two-times US Open champion Curtis Strange pulled out.

“I was angry and thought about putting my card in the bin and not play today. But I thought, ‘I have to face everybody’ so I went to the practice range to look for a solution and I have to thank David Frost because he helped me.

“He approached me and said, ‘why don’t you try this?’ It was something simple and, though between the ears was one thing that was wrong in the first round, he straightened me out.”

Lubienecki, who took up golf after emigrating to America but is now back living in Poland, has not been turned into a world-beater overnight as he still found himself propping up the 144-stong field after a second-round 83 for a 32-over-par total.

But he battled manfully to the end, was happy to talk about his painful experience afterwards and has vowed to try and get back on to this stage again. “It’s sad to smile at plus 32, but what am I going to do? I’m not going to hide. I can’t. Next year I’ll try it again,” he added.

“I have lost too many balls, too many shots and also I lost my head. But I feel I regained some pride today.” An optimist, he had not booked his flight home until Tuesday. “I’m going to stay and use the practice ground and enjoy myself.”

Whether or not many players have enjoyed themselves over the past two days is debatable. On the back of Phil Mickelson being the only player to finish under par at Muirfield, only 11 are in red numbers in the over-50s equivalent after two rounds.

“This is a much more difficult driving course than Muirfield,” claimed Mark O’Meara, the Claret Jug winner here in 1998 and now an honorary member. “The greens are smaller, the areas coming into them tighter, and I think this golf course is harder.”

Fowler described it as “beast”. American Jeff Hart, also in contention heading into the final two rounds, spoke along similar lines. “It looks tame because of the weather but it’s not,” he said.

While Langer looks in the mood, Frost is also happy with his position, both on the leaderboard and also his digs this week after being invited to stay in a house close to the Southport course when he had been disappointed with a local hotel.

“Today was a sloppy round,” said the 53-year-old, who found awkward spots in greenside bunkers at both the 12th and 14th, dropping shots on each occasion. “The clubs felt clumsy in my hands but luckily the putter felt good. It was my saviour today.”

Playing with Langer, Lyle covered his last four holes in two-under, having admitted he had been lucky earlier in the round to escape with a bogey at the sixth following a “skanky” tee shot at the par-4.

“I blocked a 3-wood into uncharted territory,” said the two-times major winner. “Even though the ball spotter saw it, we’d been searching for three or minutes before we found it but only by treading on it. That was a blessing for me as it meant I was eventually able to place it and get it out to leave myself with around 120 yards for my third shot. You are always dubious about what can happen on this course, but I’ll take where I’m sitting at halfway and things I’ve been working on are starting to come together.”