England’s James Hepworth and Sweden’s Alexander Noren set the Challenge Tour’s Apulia San Domenico Grand Final alight with their second round performances at San Domenico golf. Both men hit top form to record rounds of six under par 65 and move into a share of the lead on eight under 134 at the halfway stage of the ultimate event on the 2006 Schedule.
They lead England’s James Heath and the Welshman Mark Pilkington by a single stroke at the stunning San Domenico Golf, with Felipe Aguilar of Chile a shot further back.
Hepworth enjoyed a scintillating back nine of six under 31 to join Noren atop the leaderboard and move into the perfect position to win a place on The 2007 European Tour via the top 20 on the final Challenge Tour Rankings, which will be determined on Saturday evening.
Currently 29th on the Rankings, Hepworth needs a big performance on Italy’s south east coast if he is to break into the top 20 and he went some way to doing just that with his wonderful back nine showing.
Level par through the turn, the big 31 year old turned on the style on the back nine with birdies on the tenth and 12th, followed by four in a row between the 14th and 17th to burst through the field and into a share of the lead.
“That was definitely the most satisfying back nine of the year,” said Hepworth. “It was just one of those days where everything went right for me. I holed a couple of lovely long putts and that really got me going and then I had a bit of luck along the way which helps.
“I think the 15 footer on the 12th was the one that really got me going and then on the 16th I actually played a really poor chip that came back to me down the slope but I holed it from 30 feet for birdie. I holed another long one on the 17th for another birdie so it was a, as I said, a very satisfying back nine.
“I think that I need to finish on the top four or five to guarantee a card for The Tour and if I can manage to win here then I will be in the top ten, which will give me more opportunities on The European Tour next year.”
At fifth place on the Rankings, Noren has already secured his card for next season but he has now has his eye on the highest honour for any Challenge Tour professional – the coveted Number One spot on the final Rankings.
For that to happen, the 23 year old must win the €42,800 first prize and hope that current Numbers One and Two Johan Axgren and Mark Pilkington finish outside second place at San Domenico Golf.
“This week is strange because in many ways it is easier to focus on what you have to do,” said Noren. “I know that to win the Challenge Tour I have to win here and hope that Johan and Mark don’t finish second.
“I’m in a good position now but I have to keep playing the way I have done today to have a chance of winning.”
Given his performance over the first two rounds, Noren could well win the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, but his bid for the Number One spot could by undone by the in-form Pilkington, whose second round of three under 68 left him trailing the Swede by just a single stroke.