European Tour

Surprise package Dale Whitnell in hunt at British Masters

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Golf ball (Photo by Shaun Roy/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images)
Golf ball (Photo by Shaun Roy/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images)

Unheralded Dale Whitnell, a former courier, fired a flawless second round of 64 on Thursday to surge to within a shot of halfway leader Renato Paratore at the British Masters.

The 31-year-old Whitnell, a former Walker Cup team-mate of Tommy Fleetwood, recorded an eagle and five birdies at Close House to climb to 10 under par on the European Tour's return to action.

"I've been working hard on my game and this course suits me because it's a little bit fiddly in places," said Whitnell, who had not earned any money from five events in 2020 before the circuit shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm just trying to go about my business like I normally would and if it's good enough, it's good enough."

Whitnell spent 10 months as a courier driver a couple years ago to support himself while competing on lower-level tours, and claimed his European Tour card from qualifying school last season.

He said he was trying not to think about the first prize of 187,000 ($238,000) and a two-year European Tour exemption, a potentially life-changing breakthrough.

"The peaks and troughs of the golf profession are very interesting. You've just got to try to deal with it the best you can. I love the game, I wouldn't be here if I didn't and my amateur career speaks for itself," said Whitnell.

Italy's Paratore backed up his opening 65 with another bogey-free display, carding 66 after defying soggy conditions in Newcastle.

Justin Harding of South Africa shot the round of the tournament so far with a 63 to sit level alongside Whitnell, while overnight leader David Law is among four players one stroke further adrift.

All players, caddies and officials were tested for Covid-19 before travelling to the venue and again when arriving on site, with no reported positives so far as the European Tour resumed this week behind closed doors.

Face masks are required indoors and social distancing measures observed, although the strict protocols prompted Andrew Johnston to withdraw after nine holes of his opening round.

Johnston, who opened up last year about mental health struggles, said: "Being here and being confined to the hotel and course and not being able to bring my family is ultimately not what I want at this moment.

"I'm struggling to get my head around it all. One minute I'm coming out of lockdown, going out for dinner, and then the next I'm back in lockdown in a hotel room."

Leading second round scores in the British Masters at Close House Golf Club, Newcastle, England, on Thursday (GBR/IRL unless stated, par 71):

131 - Renato Paratore (ITA) 65-66

132 - Justin Harding (RSA) 69-63, Dale Whitnell 68-64

133 - David Law 64-69, Calum Hill 67-66, Ashley Chesters 67-66, Rasmus Hojgaard (DEN) 66-67

134 - Ryan Fox (NZL) 67-67, Oliver Fisher 65-69

135 - Ben Stow 67-68, Robert Rock 69-66, Pedro Figueiredo (POR) 66-69

136 - Matthew Jordan 68-68, Toby Tree 69-67, Clement Sordet (FRA) 69-67, Garrick Porteous 65-71, Eddie Pepperell 67-69, Jonathan Caldwell 67-69

137 - Robin Roussel (FRA) 69-68, Andy Sullivan 68-69, Jens Fahrbring (SWE) 68-69, Jeff Winther (DEN) 70-67, Adrian Meronk (POL) 69-68, Jack Singh Brar 67-70, Aaron Cockerill (CAN) 66-71, Lars Van Meijel (NED) 69-68

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