|A United Nations leaderboard at SHO - April 21, 2006
BY ED FOWLER
A half-inch of rain bucketed down early Friday, pushing back the opening of hostilities at the Redstone Golf Club Tournament Course, the Shell Houston Open’s new venue for 2006. When skies cleared, the course acquitted itself well – “We’re not going to play a course all year that’s in better condition,” said Trevor Immelman – and the field bunched up like Granny’s stockings. Some guys must have been out of contention, but just about everybody who thought he still had a chance probably did.
These speculations came in diverse tongues, dialects and accents. The leader board featured almost as many nationalities as the Houston phone book, with Australia especially well represented. Sitting prettiest among second-round finishers was a 6-4 Englishman named Greg Owen, who birdied five of his last six holes to batter par by seven strokes for the round and take the lead at 10 under. Stuart Appleby, who must wrap up his second round Saturday morning, stood at 11 under par. He will greet the day with a 50-foot eagle putt on his next-to-last hole of the round.
Appleby was one of 44 men on the course when play was suspended. The horn sounded at 7:56 p.m. (CST).
Owen, who set a course record with a 62 in a European Tour event in Belgium, put up his lowest round of the year as he shaved a shot off the one-day-old Tournament Course standard. He has not won in 41 starts on the PGA Tour but has made seven cuts in 10 tournaments this year and ranks 27th on the money list.
Among the finishers, Owen led South African Immelman by two and Swede Mathias Gronberg and American Jerry Smith by three with Aussie Aaron Baddeley another shot back.
No one found more adventure at Redstone on Friday than the man gunning for a third consecutive title. Vijay Singh of Fiji scored six birdies but shot one-under 71. He made double-bogey on No. 5 and finished in the gloaming with bogeys on 17 and 18. At four-under, he was not out of contention but was running out of margin for error. Baddeley remained in good position to back up his victory at the Verizon Heritage with a SHO title.
When play did begin, the players found for a second straight day holes closer to the fringe than Michael Moore. The way Immelman figured it, the 2 ½-hour weather delay on Friday cheated him out of the morning calm. Most of the field was most grateful it did.
But even the 26-year-old South African admitted the wind wasn’t the issue it had been in the opening round. He shot five-under 67 and cleared out, and good thing. If he had hung around he would have found that the swirling gusts he had to negotiate the afternoon before never materialized. Play was scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. (CST) on Saturday with the third round due to begin around 10.
Gronberg, an avid reader, has noodled up recently with such titles as Fearless Golf, Golf and Life and Every Shot Must Have a Purpose. The time devoted to this research was obviously well spent. The cerebral Swede hit 18 greens in regulation on Friday and has posted 11 birdies through 36 holes.
If Owen had converted all his chances, Gronberg and many others might have needed stronger medicine. The Englishman missed three putts of 10 feet or less, a 12-footer and a 15-footer. He also had a three-putt green. Over those last six holes, however, his five birdies included a bunker shot that plopped into the hole and a 20-foot putt on the last hole. “I don’t feel like I hit a bad putt today,” he said. “They just started falling at the end.”