Saturday, 22 July 2006

Rafael Cabrera Bello extended his lead in the Challenge Tour’s MAN NÖ Open to four strokes, putting him within reach of his maiden professional title.

A four under par 66 at Adamstal Golf Club in Austria took the Spaniard to 15 under par 195 with home favourite Nikki Zitny leading the chase at 11 under par following a round of 64.

But Cabrera Bello has kept a firm grip on the tournament since his opening round of 61, building a sizeable cushion over his rivals. His round was made up of five birdies and just one bogey and his controlled approach has put his maiden title with his grasp.

“Although I hit some bad shots today they were never in trouble and I didn’t look like making bogeys,” he said. “And once again I putted well. The greens are getting faster and that seems to help my putting stroke. Nerves made it a little harder today but I managed to keep it smooth.”

Cabrera Bello turned professional after an impressive amateur career during which he finished runner-up in last year’s European Amateur Championship and helped Spain to second place in the 2004 Eisenhower Trophy. But it was his fourth place in the 2002 Canarias Open de España on The European Tour as a mere 17 year old that currently stands out as his greatest golfing achievement.

That could be surpassed by victory at Adamstal.

“It would be much better,” admitted Cabrera Bello. “Winning at professional level is much more serious. Although they are good amateur tournaments you cannot compare them. In amateur events there are only about 30 players with a chance of winning. Every week out here on the Challenge Tour you get a different top ten and 100 players who can win.”

Whilst his goal is to graduate to The European Tour, he realises time is on his side as he is only 22.

“Like everyone out here playing Challenge Tour you want to play The European Tour, but if it doesn’t happen this year then there is always next. I am not in a hurry.”

First me must get across the winning line at the MAN NO Open.

“I will just try and beat the course again,” he said. “If I can do that I will have a good chance of winning. It’s a nice cushion but anything can happen. I need to concentrate on playing the course and not anyone else.”

Zitny is set to pose the greatest threat, buoyed by the home support. A six under par 64 lifted him into a challenging position as he looks to complete an Austrian double by following Markus Brier’s home win in the BA-CA Golf Open, presented by Telecom Austria, last month with a similar feat on the Challenge Tour.

Four players share third place on ten under par – England’s Tim Milford, Dane Mads Vibe-Hastrup, Icland’s Birgir Hafthorsson and Swede Johan Skold.

Meanwhile, England’s Oliver Whiteley was celebrating a colossal hole-in-one on the par four 11th hole, hitting his driver 326 yards for an albatross.

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