A bogey-free round of 70 saw England’s John Mellor grab the lead on day two of the SWALEC Wales Challenge.
Mellor, who as a youngster was on Sheffield Wednesday’s books before the golf bug bit and forced him to turn his back on a career in football, posted two birdies on his front nine to move to four under par, one shot clear of Sweden’s Joel Sjoholm and Scotland’s Greig Hutcheon.
The 38 year old – who offered golfing advice to a young Lee Westwood when he was assistant at Worksop Golf Club – has seen his career blighted by chest and thyroid problems.
But he has now targeted an eighth full season on The European Tour, saying: “My only Challenge Tour win came ten years ago, so it’d be good to get another one on the board! But it’s nice just to be up near the top of the leaderboard again, because it’s been a while. I’m injury-free now, and if I keep playing well, another season on The European Tour isn’t out of the question.”
Mellor is one clear of globetrotting Swede Sjoholm, who took the unusual step of travelling to Cardiff via Moscow. At the start of the week the Chilean-born Swede – who enjoyed a hugely successful amateur career whilst at Georgia State University – arrived in Moscow for the Inteco RussianOpen Golf Championship on The European Tour, only to catch the next flight back two hours later after learning he had received an invitation to play at the SWALEC Wales Challenge.
Sjoholm, who is playing his maiden season on the Challenge Tour, explained: “Because I haven’t got a Challenge Tour category, I’m relying on invitations. So I figured either I’d have to win in Russia to get a card on The European Tour, or finish in the top ten in Wales to qualify for next week’s Challenge Tour event – and that was obviously more likely. So it’s taken a while to get here – but so far, so good!”
Sjoholm’s round of 71 moved him to three under par, one shot clear of home favourite Rhys Davies, who equalled the course record and move himself into striking distance in a tie for fourth.
Davies’ 67, the joint lowest of the day, was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he opened his round with a double bogey at the first hole. But the youngster swiftly rallied with three consecutive birdies, and reeled off a further four to finish on two under par.
Davies, who enjoyed a prosperous amateur career before turning professional at the end of last year, said: “I hit a lot of good shots – I just misread the yardage on the first hole – so I have to be very happy with how I played. It’s only my fourth Challenge Tour event, and I’m really enjoying it so far.
“I’m now starting to realise what it takes to get to the top, because it’s a big step up from amateur golf – there’s such strength in depth. My progress since turning pro has been steady rather than spectacular, but I’m playing fairly consistently and my confidence is growing all the time. I’m just waiting for something big to happen now – whether that happens this week or next, who knows?
“I’ve got some friends and family watching me this week, so it’d be nice to finish high up on the leaderboard. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I suppose I’ve got nothing to lose really. I’m just going to go out there over the weekend, play my golf, and see where it takes me.”
Davies was joined on two under par by South Africa’s Doug McGuigan, whose round of 67 featured an eagle and five birdies.