The European Challenge Tour players graced the first ever international professional golf event in Egypt with some magnificent play during round two of the Al Ahram-Jolie Ville Sharm El Sheikh Challenge, as the English duo of Neil Cheetham and Oliver Whitely joined first round leader Craig Miller of Scotland at the top of the halfway leaderboard.
Cheetham and Whitely produced an impressive pair of 64s to equal Miller’s two round aggregate of nine under par 131 at the Jolie Ville Golf and Resort, but the best rounds of the day came from Italian Massimo Florioli and Englishman David Geall, who carded 62 and 63 respectively to sit alongside Irishman Justin Kehoe and Jose Trauwitz of Mexico on seven under par.
Florioli did not look likely to threaten the leaders until he got to the back nine, where a ten foot birdie putt on the tenth infused him with confidence and self belief – so much so that he came back in 29 to card the lowest round of the tournament so far.
“When I got to the ninth I was two under,” said Florioli, “and then as soon as I holed my birdie putt at the tenth I just started to feel it, and to see every shot perfectly. It is hard to explain – it was one of those days when you just start finding the pins and holing the putts.”
As is often the case in golf, it took a dropped shot before Geall got his round going, his bogey five at the third being quickly banished to the back of his mind by four straight birdies.
Another two successive birdies came at the ninth and tenth before another bogey on the 12th was immediately cancelled out by an eagle three at the par five 13th, and he picked up one more shot on his way back to the clubhouse for 63.
Kehoe and Trauwitz might not have set the course alight in the same manner as those two, but their second rounds of 66 took them level with Florioli and Geall on seven under after opening the tournament with a pair of 67s.
“I played well today – pretty steady stuff really and I’m pleased with my position for the weekend,” said Kehoe. “It’s great to be playing out here in Egypt – the conditions are perfect for golf, I just wish we played at places like this every week.
“I don’t have too many expectations this year – I turned professional just before Christmas and am really just finding my feet at this level, so this is really good experience for me and hopefully it will bode well for the future.”
With eight men on six under par, five players on five under and a further five on four under, the inaugural Al Ahram-Jolie Ville Sharm El Sheikh Challenge is set for an exciting, tension fuelled weekend as the players do battle for the $20,000 top prize.
The men at the top of the leaderboard are certainly looking forward to it.
Miller believes he can go all the way to record his maiden European Challenge Tour victory at the Jolie Ville Golf and Resort following his experiences of winning on the Central European EPD Tour last season.
“My putting was spot on today,” said Miller after his 67. “I maybe didn’t play as well today as I did in the first round but the putter was working well for me and I’ve been very fortunate to get a really good local caddie here – his reading of the greens was spot on.
“I’m certainly enjoying being in this position at the halfway stage and I don’t think I’ll be too phased by it or anything like that. The Challenge Tour is a higher level than I have been playing at, but I did win a couple of times on the EPD Tour last season so I can draw on my experiences from that and it should stand me in good stead for the weekend.
“If I could manage a win here it would really open up the season for me and allow me to concentrate fully on the Challenge Tour and taking the next step, which is to get into the top 15 spots on the Rankings and get myself onto The European Tour.”
Cheetham, meanwhile, was near the end of his tether during round two. Despite going to the turn in three under 32, the Englishman had missed three good birdie chances and went onto to miss another opportunity before bogeying the 11th.
“It was one of those days where I was thinking ‘you’ve missed that many chances that it’s got to come’. Then, when I made bogey on 12 I was getting a bit more frustrated so it’s just as well I birdied four in a row after that because I had played really well all day.
“It’s good to be up there on the leaderboard, it’s a nice start – but that’s all it is, a start. You’ve got to keep it going for the weekend or there’s no point.
“I think we’re in for a really good weekend because the course is really good and there’s a bit of a sting in its tail – especially on the closing holes.”