Noren leads, Monty tumbles

While Swede Alex Noren leads after round two of the Saab Wales Open, Colin Montgomerie had an absolute nightmare.

While Swede Alex Noren leads after round two of the Saab Wales Open, Colin Montgomerie had an absolute nightmare.

Montgomerie slumped to his worst 36-hole score on European soil for more than 20 years, following up his opening-round 78 with a 79 on Friday to crash out of the event.

The Scot reckons he knows what he can attribute his poor performance to – his age.

“I’m not 25 any more,” said Monty, who turns 48 in less than three weeks.

“I think it does show sometimes. It’s good being busy, but it takes its toll trying to compete against guys less than half my age only doing this.

“Playing well last week (his seventh place at Wentworth was his first top 10 for almost three years) I thought I could perform well again.

“But I just played awful. I’m very disappointed not to be playing at the weekend, never mind contending. I’m one of the last names on the board.”

To find a worse 36-hole total you have to look to the 1991 Benson & Hedges International at St Mellion, where Montgomerie shot 80 and 81, though conditions there were so tough that his score was still better than many others. At Celtic Manor on Friday, Monty finished almost dead last.

Having failed at Walton Heath on Monday to qualify for the US Open, Montgomerie will try to qualify for the Open instead when he plays at Sunningdale this coming Monday.

“It’s become very important. I’ve not had a year where I’ve not competed in a major before (not since 1989 at least) – I’ve played in The Open 21 years in a row and I want to keep that record going,” he said.

For Montgomerie, failure to qualify next week could mean that he’s played in his last major of his career.

Over on the other end of the leaderboard, Alexander Noren grabbed the halfway lead after shooting his second consecutive 67 to lie on eight under par. Noren leads by just one shot, though, and his closest competitor is none other than defending champion Graeme McDowell, who shot a 68 on Friday to add to his opening 67.

It’s been a good week for Noren so far, as his trip to Walton Heath on Monday to qualify for his first US Open was a successful one.

The 28-year-old won the European Masters two years ago, but dropped from 25th to 85th on the money list last season. Once ranked as high as 50th in the world, he’s now at No 127. Playing in his first US Open comes as a major boost for him.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing a US Open and I’m so happy – so happy,” he said. “It’s such an energy boost.”

Those newfound energy reserves were in evidence on Friday, as he birdied four of his last five holes to take over the lead from Keith Horne, who could only manage a 73 after his 64 on Thursday.

He’ll be mindful of McDowell, however, lurking a mere shot behind. The Northern Irishman also enjoyed four birdies in a five-hole stretch, in his case starting at the eighth, and his recovery from under the lip of the bunker at the short 10th was almost just as valuable as the birdies.

“One of the boys said Seve would have been proud of that one,” he said. “I’m on a course I enjoy and in a position I enjoy.

“This is absolutely perfect for the US Open (he defends there as well in a fortnight). I said I just wanted to get in the mix and get the juices flowing and it’s kind of mission accomplished.”

France’s Victor Dubuisson and local favourite Jamie Donaldson share third place, one shot behind McDowell, while three players – Barry Lane, Peter Hanson and first-round leader Keith Horne – share fifth place on five under.

Elsewhere, Ross Fisher’s hopes of getting back into the top 50, and into the US Open, were dashed as he carded a 79 to miss the cut.

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