ZANDER Lombard continued his love affair with links golf at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open as the South African carded a second round 67 to take the halfway lead at Lahinch Golf Club.
Lombard’s nine-under total left the losing finalist in the 2014 Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush, one stroke clear of Oxfordshire’s Eddie Pepperell.
The 24-year-old announced himself to the golfing world last year at The Open Championship when he played his way into contention during the first three rounds at Carnoustie Golf Links.
And that experience stood him in good stead during day two in the second Rolex Series event of the 2019 Race to Dubai – he finished tied sixth in last year’s Irish Open at Ballyliffin.
Lombard, who also lost a play-off to Alvaro Quiros in the Rocco Forte Open at Sicily’s seaside Vedura Resort, in 2017, said: “I’m so comfortable on links courses. It’s never just a normal shot. It’s always a little three-quarter, a little punch, judging the wind right.
“I’ve had great success on links golf in my amateur career. It’s just more good feelings here and hopefully I can take them into the weekend.
“I’’s really just been hard graft the last three months. I went through a bit of a bad spell, missing a few cuts by one, and just stuck to the process of my team.
“It just came together at the right time, I suppose, and I’m happy with the results so far.
Pepperell, who signed for a second round 67 for an eight under total, will look to bolster his own links record as he chases a third European Tour victory and a first Rolex Series triumph.
“We saw Lahinch probably a bit more the way we should see it today,” said Pepperell, who was runner-up in the British Masters, at Hillside, in May, the last time the tour visited a true links course.
“It would be nice to have one day here with 20 mile-an-hour winds, just to see the score,” Eddie added.
“It would be entertaining. Lahinch is a pleasure to play though, it’s a lot of fun,” said Pepperell, who finished third at The Players Championship, at Sawgrass, in March, having won twice on the European Tour inside a year.
“I’m not hitting the ball perfectly, but my short game has been feeling good, and I guess we’ll just see how the weekend goes, but I have to concentrate.”
The 28-year-old, who is a member at Frilford Heath, near Abingdon, came close to winning this title at Royal County Down in 2015, losing out to Søren Kjeldsen in a three-way play-off.
The former B.B.&O. amateur, who played for England, also finished tied for sixth alongside Tiger Woods in last year’s Open Championship.
Former World No. 1 Lee Westwood will have his sights set on a second Rolex Series win after a 67 moved the Englishman to a three-way tie for third on seven-under alongside Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Spain’s Jorge Campillo.
Ancer, who qualified for The Open at Royal Portrush by winning the Emirates Australian Open before Christmas, having won on the Web.com Tour in 2015: “Ireland has been good to me to far. The golf course is phenomenal, and I’m playing some good golf.
“I just love being very creative around the greens, also off the tees. The ball can roll any direction at any given point, so I’ve just got to be really patient and just creative and just have fun.”
Westwood, who has two wins in Ireland, but is still seeking his first Irish Open victory, said: “It was a bit tricky. There was drizzle and the wind was up a little bit more.
“And the front nine plays the hardest nine, so you know you could make a couple of bogeys early on, which I did.
“You’ve just got to keep riding it out, not panic, and you know there’s going to be a few chances on the back nine.
“It’s a fantastic golf course. A lot is made of the blind par three, but the other three par threes that you can see are spectacular, aren’t they.
“All in all, I think it’s a great golf course, a lovely test, and really examines every part of your game.”
The 46-year-old is part of a strong chasing pack, which includes his fellow former Ryder Cup players Andy Sullivan, Thorbjørn Olesen – both in a share of sixth on six-under – and Rafa Cabrera Bello, who lies on five-under alongside defending Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Champion Russell Knox and Northern Ireland’s Cormac Sharvin, among others.
Campillo, who finally achieved his maiden European Tour win at the Trophee Hassan, in April, said: “I competed well today, because my game wasn’t too good.
“Obviously on the back nine I played great, but I was struggling off the tee. I believe I hit seven or eight fairways in two days and I putted great, so it was competing good and putting good.
“It’s been great. I had a great season last year and I have a great season this year, too. I finally got my first win. Hopefully I can finish strong here.”
Seamus Power rallied with seven birdies in his final 12 holes to join three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington on four-under – five off the pace – while Shane Lowry was two shots further back on two-under.