Rock hardly misses a beat in climb towards top

Golf: Teaching professional joins leaderboard in Volvo PGA Championship as Clarke maintains overall advantage at half-way stage
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The Independent Online

Robert Rock - great name and none too shabby a game, either. The 26-year-old is attached as a teaching professional to the Swingers Golf Centre in Tamworth. A driving range and a nine-hole, par-three course is his usual domain. But in the second round of the Volvo PGA Championship the name of Rock appeared on the leaderboards.

While Darren Clarke birdied the last two holes for a 69 to maintain his lead at nine under par, by one from Niclas Fasth, Rock produced a 68 to be seven under. Two weeks ago he was 22nd in the Benson and Hedges International, just a few miles down the road from Tamworth at The Belfry.

He qualified for both events as the Midlands Professionals champion from last year. After missing out at the first stage of the Qualifying School in the late 1990s, Rock undertook his PGA training while working on his own game as well as those of other swingers.

An eagle at the fourth came thanks to a 30-foot putt but at the next, a par-three, he hit a four-iron to two feet for an impressive birdie. After a couple of dropped shots he birdied the 12th, 15th and 16th, and sneaked a look at the leaderboard on the 17th tee. "I was thinking about two easy par-fives to come and if I birdied both of them I'd be in the lead," he said.

Two pars followed, but that put him alongside the likes of Ian Woosnam and one ahead of Ernie Els. "I am very happy where I am on the leaderboard," Rock said. "I just hope I keep playing the same sort of golf for the next two days."

The advice of Clarke was along those lines, to forget about where he was and keep doing what he has been doing well. It will be harder today when Rock tees off with the leaders, but for the last two days he had the company of another Midlands golfer, Chris Hall.

"It was nice to play with some people you know," he said. "Apart from the spectators and the TV, it felt a bit like a normal game."

Woosnam, who had a 69 to be seven under, called again for the next two Ryder Cup captains to be nominated together. However, perhaps sensing that Bernhard Langer may be in the driving seat for Oakland Hills next year, he admitted: "I would rather see Langer do it next time. He would be perfect for America and I think I would do a good job in Ireland (in 2006). But if I'm not going to be guaranteed for three years time I want to have a shot at doing it this time."

The next captain will not be announced until after the Ryder Cup Board has met at the Open in July.

Colin Montgomerie produced the most remarkable shot of the second round when he broke his five-wood playing his second at the first hole. Monty, whose three wins here were due in the main to staying on the fairways, hooked his opening drive into the trees on the left.

There was no problem making contact with the ball but there was a tree immediately in front of him and the shaft inevitably snapped upon it. "I knew it was going to happen," Montgomerie said. "It was so close to the tree and there was no way of stopping the follow-through on a 200-yard shot, so I knew it was going to break."

The head of the club flew off but fortunately avoided the spectators and, amazingly, Montgomerie himself was not injured. More to the point, the ball landed just short of the green, and he chipped and putted for his par.

The club was sent away for repairs, but as the glue was still drying he settled for a spare five-wood he had not previously hit. While Monty tried to replicate his three-birdie finish of Thursday, his four at the par-five 17th was made with his second ball after the first had gone out of bounds. The difference was a bogey rather than a birdie and a 70 left Montgomerie at five under.

Quite the most shocking score of the day came from Mark James. The 49-year-old former Ryder Cup captain came home in 51 for an 88 to be 27 over par, almost double the next worst half-way score. On Thursday he had endured a six-putt in recording a 10 at the fourth hole. Yesterday, he had three four-putts and three three-putts. This was James's fifth event of the season and the fourth time that he has missed the cut.

"I've been having an awful time," James admitted. "I am playing badly and putting badly, but that was one of the worst experiences of my career. You just want to get out of the way of your playing partners. You feel like pulling out, but you can't do that."

The fact that James is chairman of the Tournament Committee cannot have made the experience any more comfortable. On Wednesday, James was the man who had to announce that a fine and a reprimand had been levied on Seve Ballesteros. So upset was the Spaniard that he pulled out of the event, but at least did so in time for an alternate to take his place.

Playing alongside James cannot have been an easy experience, either. David Park, who missed the cut, declined to comment, but Denmark's Steen Tinning, who made the cut with a strong finish, said: "I have never had an experience like that in 16 or 17 years on tour. It was not easy to play with."

Volvo PGA Championship: (West Course, Wentworth, Surrey) Leading early second-round scores: 136 N Fasth (Swe) 69 67. 137 I Woosnam 68 69, Soren Hansen (Den) 69 68, R Rock 69 68. 138 E

Els (SA) 69 69, T Immelman (SA) 69 69, A Forsyth 67 71, G Brand Jnr 68 70. 139 D Gilford 70 69, M Gronberg (Swe) 72 67, P McGinley 70 69, C Montgomerie 69 70, J M Olazabal (Sp) 68 71. 140 M Olander (Swe) 73 67, P Price 71 69, R Chapman 71 69, J Donaldson 69 71, E Canonica (It) 71 69. 141 P Baker 68 73, A Scott (Aus) 68 73, J Bickerton 72 69, S Torrance 70 71, P Senior (Aus) 68 73, J Van de Velde (Fr) 71 70, B Austin 73 68. 142 H Nystrom (Swe) 73 69, J Remesy (Fr) 73 69, P Casey 70 72, M Tunnicliff 69 73, D Fichardt (SA) 69 73, N O'Hern (Aus) 73 69, G Turner (NZ) 72 70, D Orr 72 70. 143 S Dodd 71 72, D Drysdale 72 71, S Luna (Sp) 72 71, P Fulke (Swe) 71 72, S Lyle 75 68, S Tinning (Den) 74 69, P Eales 74 69, M Blackey 70 73. 144 D Howell 74 70, J Spence 75 69, M Mackenzie 77 67, R Green (Aus) 72 72, M Angel Martin (Sp) 73 71, R Wessels (SA) 73 71, N Cheetham 70 74, R Bland 69 75, M Lafeber (Neth) 74 70. 145 D Lynn 75 70, P Nyman (Swe) 75 70, S Struver (Ger) 72 73, J Moseley (Aus) 72 73, M Pilkington 74 71, J Lomas 73 72, M Farry (Fr) 73 72, J Berendt (Arg) 73 72. 146 I Garbutt 76 70, S Gallacher 71 75, T Bjorn (Den) 75 71; D Carter 74 72, A Wall 72 74.