By Tony Jimenez
WATFORD, England (Reuters) – Fan favorite Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston had the galleries eating out of the palm of his hand with a buccaneering eight-birdie 65 in the British Masters second round on Friday.
An 11,000 crowd turned up at The Grove and most seemed to be rooting for the player affectionately known as ‘Beef’ after he surged to within one stroke of leader and fellow Englishman Richard Bland (64).
“The fans have been amazing,” the bearded Johnston told reporters after his 10-under tally of 132 earned a share of second position alongside Swede Alex Noren (65).
“I have a good relationship with the crowds. I just have a good time with them, all the kids, all the people, coming up and asking for pictures and to sign stuff.
“Some guy last night asked me to sign his forehead so I put a big ‘Beef’ across it and took a picture,” he said.
Johnston won a host of admirers around the world for the smiling way he interacted with the fans while finishing eighth in the British Open at Troon in July.
He may be an idiosyncratic showman but the 27-year-old can also produce some golfing fireworks.
Johnston started at the 10th hole on Friday and three times made inroads on par on his outward half before a crackerjack back nine saw him pick up five birdies and two bogeys.
The world number 79 is now demanding the galleries continue their vociferous support over the weekend.
“What I want to hear is ‘Beef’,” said Johnston whose one previous European Tour victory came at the Spanish Open in April. “Just keep it up because I’m loving it.”
Fellow countryman Bland has waited a long time for his maiden win but it may not be too much longer in arriving after he reeled off seven birdies in a flawless effort.
“I’m just trying to stay aggressive and keep going for my shots,” said the 43-year-old who has yet to drop a stroke this week.
“I’ve holed out fantastically well, not only these last two days but probably over the last three or four months. If I can keep that going, hopefully I’ll be there on Sunday.”
Noren, one of the hottest players on the tour having won the Scottish Open in July and last month’s European Masters in Switzerland, would have leapfrogged Bland at the top of the leaderboard had he not double-bogeyed the ninth, his final hole.
The Swede, playing alongside Johnston, took three to reach the green after an errant drive and then needed three putts from 15 feet.
English pair Tommy Fleetwood and Anthony Wall were in joint fourth position on 133 along with Scott Jamieson of England.
Lee Westwood was among a group on 135 but fellow former world number one and tournament host Luke Donald missed the cut.
“The crowds have been great, the course is in fantastic condition, you should have no excuse,” said Donald.
“The greens are absolutely perfect. Unfortunately I’ll be watching over the weekend and not playing which is disappointing.”
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)