Two Scots and two Swedes took the honours after an eventful opening 27 holes of the 2nd Cuba Challenge Tour Grand Final at Varadero. Andrew Raitt and Henrik Stenson lead on seven under par, one clear of Graham Rankin and Adam Mednick.
On a warm but breezy first day, Raitt carded an opening 67 then followed it with a nine-hole 34 while Stenson added a 32 to his first round 69.
Raitt, the England-based Scot, needs to win the tournament or finish runner-up to stand a chance of securing his tour card for next year, while Stenson is well on his way to finishing No.1 on the rankings.
His closest rival, Ireland’s David Higgins, had a disappointing first round 74, but bounced back with 32 to stand at two under, while Spain’s Carlos Rodiles, ranked third, is two strokes off the pace on five under.
Raitt had six birdies in his 67, then picked up two more shots when the 41-strong field returned to the course to complete the first half of their second round.
But Stenson was even more impressive and looking every inch the Challenge Tour’s No.1 man. The foundation of his opening 69 was a birdie-eagle-birdie run from the sixth to get to four under. He ran into a bogey and double bogey at the 12th and 13th, but bounced back immediately with back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th.
Stenson, together with playing partners Higgins and Rodiles, all carded 32 in round two and amazingly all three eagled the 533-yard first.
Rankin, currently one place outside the top 15 and who needs a good week to gain his card, made a blistering start. He was four under after four holes after starting eagle-birdie-par-birdie in his opening 68. He then picked up two more shots with a 34 and was joined by Mednick, who added a 33 to his first round 69.
Rodiles is one of four players on five under. He is joined by Sweden’s Johan Rystrom, Michele Reale from Italy, and South African Trevor Immelman, all of whom are currently in the top 11 on the rankings.
Among those on four under is Erol Simsek from Germany, currently ranked 13th and seeking to stay in the top 15, while England’s Simon Hurd, currently 17th, has made a sound start with 34 after a 70 which included bogeys at the final two holes.
Sweden’s Fredrik Andersson, winner of Le Touquet Challenge de France two weeks ago, finished over par but he had the consolation of holing-in-one with an eight-iron at the downwind 190-yard third hole during a morning 71.
But there was bitter disappointment for Spain’s Alvaro Salto and Welshman Mark Pilkington. Salto, who damaged his ribs two days ago, was forced to retire injured after striking his opening drive, while Pilkington was disqualified after signing for a wrong score.
What made it worse was that both had chances of securing their cards, Salto ranked 21st and Pilkington 20th.