Jon Lupton continued his outstanding progress as a professional by firing a second round 67 at the Benmore Developments Northern Ireland Masters to lead Michael Jonzon by one stroke – with all star pair Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell poised on minus four at the halfway stage of the first ever appearance of the European Challenge Tour in Ulster.
Lupton, who turned professional just over three weeks ago, began his round as he left off yesterday – when he set a course record, seven under par 64 at the 6761 yard par 71 Clandeboye GC.
Starting at the tenth tee, the 24 year old Englishman completed the back nine in five under 31 before a 20 minute delay knocked him off his stride and he came home in 36 for a two day total of 11 under 131.
The round of the day, however, came from Jonzon. The Swede – currently 11th on the Challenge Tour Rankings with €50,614 – broke the 24 hour old course record set by Lupton with a sizzling 63.
“I’m happy with how it went,” said Lupton, “especially with my short game today. I felt as though I was really in the zone today on my front nine and then when we got to the tenth tee we had a 20 minute delay that really upset my rhythm and knocked me off balance.
“I felt that, after going to the turn in five under that I could have had another 64 today, but to be honest I was happy to get to double figures. I said to myself at the start of the round that I would be happy to get to ten under, so to be 11 is satisfying.
“I suppose guys like Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell will be looking to make a charge at some stage, but I have to just think about my own game. If I can go on to win here it would be fantastic, but realistically if I can get into the top ten I’d be happy because that would guarantee me an invite to the Challenge Tour event next week in Sweden.
“I do look up to players like Darren, and I’ve had a bit of an insight into his career and how he has gone about things because my coach, Peter Cowan, used to work with him earlier on in his career.”
Jonzon played some flawless golf, carding six birdies, an eagle and 11 pars en route to his eight under par round. The 31 year old is now ten under for the tournament.
He said: “I had 26 putts today, but my putting has been a bit of a mix of good and bad all year - it’s been a bit more solid over the summer period. I struggled yesterday with the greens and my distance control but it was a lot better today.
“It was good out there today though, and it’s always nice to get a course record because it doesn’t happen that often, especially round a course like this one that can be quite tricky.”
The 31 year old Swede is a hugely experienced player, having played for five years on The European Tour International Schedule between 1995 and 2000.
During that period he won the 1997 Portuguese Open, before he lost his form and confidence that has only fully returned this season following his victories in the Galeria Kaufhof Pokal Challenge and the Rolex Trophy on the Challenge Tour.
Those victories have been the main reason for Jonzon’s current high ranking on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit.
“I’m in a good position for this tournament as well as on the Challenge Tour Rankings where I’m 11th and if I was to win this week it would be tremendous. I think it would guarantee my Tour Card for next year.
“I lost my card in 2000 and I found it really hard for a while after that. It’s been a lot of hard work since then to get back but I think it’s finally starting to pay off. I was as low as you could go at one point though – I remember playing in the PGA Championship at Wentworth and I actually couldn’t hit the balls when I was on the driving range.
“I had to go away and analyze everything from my swing to the way I was approaching the game mentally.
“The Challenge Tour is a really good Tour and the scores are unbelievable at times. The cuts are so low at times – one this year was six under and even though the courses might be quite easy for us guys, we still have to shoot the low scores.
“I won with 25 under in Switzerland and that kind of standard has been consistent all year. I’d say the main difference between this course and the others are the greens – there are a few trick ones out there and then there is also the weather!
“When you do well on the Challenge tour it really sets you up for the European Tour. It makes you try harder and you have concentrate all the time you are out on the course.
“As far as having Darren Clarke in the chasing pack is concerned, you just expect a player like him to play well anyway. I’ve played with Darren before – I was on the main Tour between 1995 and 2000 so I’m not really afraid of him in that way.”
Clarke, who played the par three holes in six over par during the first round, finished with four birdies in his last five holes for a 66 to put himself in contention at four under, with McDowell joining his fellow countryman on 138 after a second consecutive 69.
The World number 13 said: “Well, I was eight shots better on the par threes today for a start! It was better today but still not on top of my game – I think I might be trying a bit too hard, and almost trying to force things a bit too much.
“I finished well with four birdies in the last five holes but I had to get going because I was level par with five to go and realised that I was in danger of missing the cut, but those birdies have certainly helped me.
“My swing was a little better in those closing holes but it’s still out of sorts. It all depends on what the leaders do now if I’m to have a chance, and my swing has got to improve as well.”
The halfway cut is set at level par, with 55 players competing over the weekend for the €35,877 first prize.