England’s Richard Bland produced the form that made him a regular on The European Tour to take control of the Donnington Grove Computacenter English Challenge Open with a second round of five under par 67 to post a halfway total of eight under 136.
He leads Sweden’s Oskar Bergman and the English duo of Mathew King and Graeme Storm by one shot with two rounds to play, with Germany’s Erol Simsek a shot further back after a best of the day 66 took him from level par to six under in the space of 18 holes.
Bland, who finished second at The European Tour’s Murphy’s Irish Open in 2001, was one over after three holes of his second round, but hit back with six birdies in what was a brilliant display of guts and determination considering his position on the Challenge Tour Rankings as the season approaches it’s climax.
Currently 13th, Bland is right on the borderline of securing a return to The European Tour as one of the top 15 Challenge Tour players of 2004. Given the pressure on him, with just next weekend’s Bouygues Telecom Grand Final left to play on the schedule, Bland was a cool customer both on and off the course at the Donnington Grove Country Club.
“I got it round all right today and yesterday,” said Bland, “and I think that I am a lot more relaxed at the moment. In the last two events I haven’t played well and I think that I have been thinking about my situation and my position on the Rankings too much to be honest.
“Yesterday and today I have deliberately been a lot more care-free in my attitude towards it. I have not been not caring, but have just been playing without thinking about it too much. That has relaxed me and I have putted a lot better this week. The greens here at Donnington are the best we have played on for a while out on the Challenge Tour and when they are that good then you trust your putts a lot more.
“I would definitely take the same scores again over the weekend here. It would be great to win and that is definitely the way I will be thinking over the next two days. I think that if I can finish in the top three on Sunday then I will pretty much have secured my Card and it would be great to be able to go the Grand Final without the pressure of worrying about my overall position.”
Bergman is under the same sort of pressure as the tournament leader. The Swede is 49th on the Rankings and needs a good finish to win a place among the top 45 and guarantee himself a spot at the Golf du Médoc next week. Bergman picked up three birdies and gave nothing back en route to his second round 69, and simply smiled when asked if he was feeling the end of season pressure.
“Am I feeling the pressure? I’m feeling nothing, absolutely no pressure!” laughed the 27 year old. “It has been a good start to the week but there is still two rounds to go. I need a good week and a good finish to make the Grand Final so I hope that I can keep this good form going for the next two rounds.”
King had a second round 70 to join Bergman and Storm on the seven under mark. The 29 year old started his second round at the tenth tee and put together ten straight pars before picking up his first shot of the day on the second before finishing birdie-birdie-bogey to get to seven under.
King is 11th on the Rankings, but, with all of the tension surrounding the season’s finale, won’t look beyond his next shot as he tries to consolidate his position.
“I’m not one for looking too far ahead,” said the man who won the Skandia PGA Open earlier in the season. “I am quite pleased with the round today and obviously it would be great to go to the last event of the season knowing that my Card was safe, but there are plenty of other guys roundabout me in a similar position so you can’t start thinking about it.”
Storm, on the other hand, was one of the most relaxed men at the Donnington Grove Country Club as he carded a third round 70 to supplement his opening 67. The 1999 British Amateur Champion is third on the Rankings and has secured his return to The European Tour in what has been a wonderful season that has included victories in the Ryder Cup Wales Challenge and last week’s Attijari Wafa – Tikida Beach Moroccan Classic.
“As I said yesterday, I’m not swinging it great at the moment, but to be playing with no pressure is really nice and the fact that I have been putting good scores on the board while not playing at my best just shows that this game – especially on the Challenge Tour – is a lot to do with your mindset.”
Englishman Mathew Woods, meanwhile, made one of the recoveries of the season during the second round. Woods, who plays under the attachment of the Donnington Grove Country Club, opened the event with a seven over par 79, but recovered magnificently with a five under par 67 during round two.
“I am absolutely delighted, I’m excited, I’m everything that I wasn’t yesterday!” smiled Woods. “It was just the complete opposite from the first round today. Yesterday was dreadful. I got off to a poor start and then it got worse from there, but I went home last night and had an hour long chat on the phone to psychologist Steve Head who really sorted me out. He just told me to do what I have been doing all year and keep it going which I managed to do and I putted beautifully today.
“I have been playing on the EuroPro Tour this year, but the standard out here on the Challenge Tour is a lot higher. I got the impression that the players on the Challenge Tour are not only better in general but they seem to be hungrier than the guys on the EuroPro Tour. The Challenge Tour players work harder on their games from what I have seen at the four events I have played this year.”