Lombard is delighted to find missing link in hunt for title joy
Zander Lombard has been searching for the missing link in his game for months and he found it at Lahinch with the links turf and sea breeze reawakening his best golf from its summer slumber.
He loves links terrain and after finding himself in position to become the first South African winner of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open since Bobby Locke won at Portmarnock in 1938, he's keen to take advantage.
The Pretoria native (24) arrived in Lahinch with his season on life support having missed his last six cuts in a row to slip to 106th in the Race to Dubai. But his love of links golf - he was runner-up to Bradley Neil in the 2014 Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush and contended in The Open last year before closing with an 82 - has stood him in good stead.
After regaining his card at the Q-School last year, when he claimed his lone professional win to date on the Sunshine Tour, he's thrived in west Clare and believes he can do more.
"It's really just hard graft the last three months," said Lombard, who leads by a shot on nine-under par from Englishman Eddie Pepperell after following that scintillating 64 with a 67 yesterday.
"I went through a bit of a bad spell missing a few cuts by one but just sticking to the process of my team it just came together at the right time, and I'm happy with the results so far.
"I'm so comfortable on links golf. 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. I don't know, it's just more good feelings, and hopefully I can take it into the weekend."
Pepperell has surprised himself by contending having not played since the middle of May following some injury problems.
"I've actually been woken up the last couple of nights at 3am by the locals, so I'm going to go buy myself some earplugs and try and get some more sleep," he joked.
"Noisy, they're noisy around here. I get the feeling they like to drink a lot."
He loves the course's great variety and nuances and he was pleased to shoot 67 in the wind and misty rain that greeted the early morning starters.
"I am pretty surprised," he said.
"I guess what's more surprising is I don't feel like I've played great, but I've been kind of steady. And my short game and putting has been very good, which I wasn't expecting.
"I really had no idea where I was standing at, so to have this performance through two rounds is certainly a nice surprise. I'm comfortable in this position, so I'm expecting myself just to keep pushing forward."
As for Lahinch, he loves that he's forced to use the driver often and he accepts the blind shots at the Klondyke and Dell for what they are.
"I think those two holes there are definitely quirky to say the least, but the rest makes up for it," he said.
"Actually I think six through to 12 are spectacular, and then the beginning and the end plays pretty well. It's a proper course. It's good to play."
Pepperell will be disappointed not to claim the title to add to a case of wine he won this week, despite only just returning from a spell out with injury.
A back problem had sidelined Pepperell since mid-May and forced him to miss the US Open at Pebble Beach but he showed no signs of rust at Lahinch.
Before the serious action got under way, Pepperell took on New Zealand's Ryan Fox in a 14-club challenge on the par-three eighth at Lahinch and emerged victorious with some brilliant shot-making to win the wager which had been agreed beforehand.
"I would be quite honestly disappointed if I didn't win, or certainly come close to winning, being in this position with my recent record in terms of my form over the last 12 to 18 months," he said.
"I certainly feel very calm leading and if I don't get in my own way over the weekend, I don't see why I can't win this tournament, and I'm not afraid of winning it, so that's a nice feeling.
"I think in the past I would certainly have been a lot more nervy in this position but I feel relatively calm, to be honest, so I'm looking forward to a good weekend ahead around a great course."
Spain's Jorge Campillo shot a six-under 64 to jump into a share of third with Mexican invitee Abraham Ancer and the evergreen Lee Westwood, who both shot 67s.
Westwood recovered from early bogeys at the third and fourth with three birdies in a row from the seventh and two more at the 12th and 14th on what is proving to be a fruitful 24th Irish Open appearance.
"You know, everybody should have the chance to come play Lahinch," he said.
"It's a fantastic golf course - it really examines every part of your game.
"If you hit the ball well, it gives you a few chances, and if you start getting out of position, it's punishing. That's all you can really ask from a golf course."
It wasn't such a good day for Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington, though.
G-Mac finished four-over par, missing the one-under cut mark by five strokes, while Clarke finished at seven-over par and will also miss the weekend.
Overnight leader Harrington fell away in his second round, shooting a three-over-par 73 to fall to four-under, alongside another Irishman in Seamus Power, while Shane Lowry is two-under.
"You have to stick in there, and I was a little better on the back nine, so hopefully I have not done too much damage," three-time Major winner and 2020 Ryder Cup captain Harrington said.
"Four-under par is still in it. I'm under pressure now over the weekend."