Frank Ford III in command at Royal Portrush
Frank Ford III opened-up a commanding four shot lead at the Seniors Open Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush and will have compatriot Chip Lutz as his closest purser and playing partner in the final round.
First round leader Ford added a best of the day 70 to his opening 69 for an impressive five-under-par 139 aggregate. Lutz, who finished runner-up to defending champion Paul Simson at Walton Heath in 2010, carded 71 to hold second on 143. Irish international and 2007 champion Arthur Pierse was tucked in at third after his level par 72 for 145.
Hugh Smyth, Pierse's fellow Irish international, returned a 76 despite suffering with a sore back to be tied fourth on 146 alongside American Brady Exeber (71). Home favourite Garth McGimpsey (75), English pair Alan Mew (73) and Chris Reynolds (74) and American Douglas Pool (73) are within touching distance of Ford's lead on 147.
Ford has played exemplary golf over the first two days but is taking nothing for granted and knows this course, more than most, is capable of biting back at any time.
"It was an interesting kind of day, most of the good stuff happened in the middle of the round," said the leader in reference to three birdies in succession from the eighth. The 59-year-old from South Carolina believes the accurate pace putting from long range and accuracy off the tee has been his secret.
"I didn’t believe 139 (for two rounds) could be shot on this golf course when I started," added the plus-two handicapper, who would have matched his 69 but for a dropped shot at the 18th. "Driving has been the key and I’ve putted great, especially some very good two putts from long range.
"I’ve just played as good as I can play. I haven’t been in much trouble and hope I don’t have to deal with it (Friday) but, if I do, I’m prepared for it."
Lutz will be looking to go one better than last year and is well-placed heading into the final day. His front nine gleaned birdies at the second and ninth and though there were dropped shots at the 10th and 12th, a third birdie of the day came at the 16th.
Pierse was left to rue a couple of mistakes in bunkers and felt his level par round was the worst he could have scored.
"Honestly, I left a 66 out there without any problem," said Pierse, who ran up a double-bogey six at the 18th after bunker trouble. "But that’s the way it goes. I think I’ve only missed two fairways and four greens in two rounds, so I’m hitting the ball well. I have a slight issue with the putter but if I sort that out I feel I can go low.
"I’ll be giving it a go tomorrow (Friday)," added the Tipperary native, who enjoyed a run of three birdies from the second after starting with a three-putt at the first from 15 feet.
Spare a thought for defending champion Simson, who ran up a disastrous 11 at the treacherous par four first. The American’s misery was compounded after he genuinely thought he had made a two, so pleased was he with his blind nine-iron approach.
“I honestly thought my nine-iron was heading for the hole, but it went through the green and into the bushes. With a delicate chip back my ball just kept rolling and ended up in the deep bunker in front of the green. From there I took five more to get out and the rest they say is history,” said Simson, who went on to sign for an 80 and at 157 is too far off the pace to retain his title.
McGimpsey also had troubles in the same bunker at the first and took two to get out before opening with a double-bogey.
“I didn’t hole much and was very unlucky at the first,” said McGimpsey, Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup captain in 2003 and 2005. “I just have to go out with a positive attitude; there’s only one winner and you can be sure I won’t be leaving anything behind tomorrow.”
Another former Walker Cup captain, Vinny Giles, dropped back to four-over 148 after following up an opening 70 with a 78.
“I was absolutely awful the front nine; made seven bogeys and two pars and shot 43. Improved on the back nine and holed from off the green for eagle at the 15th,” said Giles, who made a special effort to play at Royal Portrush.
“This golf course is easily in my top 10 in the world and this is my fourth event here; played two British Senior Opens and one British Senior Amateur. I just love the place,” added the 68-year-old.
The cut fell at 14-over 158 with 66 players making it into the final round.
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