With 36 holes in the books, Padraig Harrington is just three shots adrift of leader Ernie Els, while Darren Clarke’s 69 sees him enter the weekend in a tie for 16th at Alabama’s Greystone Golf and Country Club.
The Regions Tradition is the first major of five on the Champions Tour calendar, and also the season’s first 72-hole event, and the big names are piling up at the top of the leaderboard at the midpoint.
Reigning Senior US Open champion Harrington carded a four-under 68 in round one, but was treading water in round two as, having begun his round on the tenth, he’d cover the back nine in level par courtesy of one bogey and one birdie, and then another bogey at the first dropped him to the wrong side of par for the day.
But the three-time major champion is made of stern stuff, and he’d respond with back-to-back birdies on two and three, then repeat the feat on six and seven to shoot a round of -3, thrusting himself firmly in the mix and he goes into the weekend tied for fifth at -7.
Making birdies hasn’t been an issue for Clarke thus far on the Champions Tour circuit, but the mistakes have proven costly. He’d make just one birdie and one eagle in round two at Greystone, but he’d go bogey-free for the first time this year and he’d climb up 12 spots on the leaderboard and move into contention.
The birdie came on the sixth after five straight pars to begin the round, and he’d par the next six before eagling the par-5 13th, and reeling off an additional five pars to close out the round.
The round of the day belonged to Ernie Els, whose six-under was matched only by Robert Karlsson, as the South African took the halfway lead at -10. The leaderboard is stacked, however, with Paul Broadhurst breathing down his neck at -9 and defending champion Steve Stricker one further adrift alongside Timothy O’Neill.
Karlsson, Alex Cejka, Jerry Kelly and Joe Durant join Harrington in a five-way tie for fifth.
“It’s all about managing your game,” Els told the press afterwards, “managing your game through the golf course. I’ve played it quite a few times now, and I enjoy it. The greens were a little bit softer so I felt like if you’re really on your game you can get a good score, and I felt like I did that. I didn’t hit too many close shots, but I made some good putts, then on the par-5s I was able to get up and down for birdie so it was a good day.”
With four major titles to his name, the ‘Big Easy’ also has four Champions Tour victories but has yet to land one of the senior majors.
“I’ve got a kind of a new set in my bag,” he explained, “my clubs have new shafts and I’m getting used to them but it feels good. I’ve been playing a lot golf lately so I know where my game is. I just want to get out there and do as best as I can, I’m in contention, and that is all you can ask for.”
“I’ve played here well in the past,” he added, “I’ve finished top-10s but (Steve) Stricker kind of ran away with it the two times I was here.”
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