Italy’s Marco Soffietti showed welcome signs of returning to form with a superb round of 65 to take charge of the AGF-Allianz Golf Open Grand Toulouse on the European Challenge Tour.
Soffietti, currently 92nd in the Rankings, would need to secure victory this week if he is to harbour realistic hopes of qualifying for the season-ending Apulia San Domenico Grand Final and graduating to The European Tour, and eight birdies in a round of 65 did the Italian’s chances no harm at all.
That moved him to ten under par, one shot clear of Scotland’s Steven O’Hara, France’s Dominique Nouailhac, Argentina’s Miguel Rodriguez and Paraguay’s Marco Ruiz.
Soffietti said: “I played well today. I started off badly with a bogey at the first hole, but then bounced back straight away with two birdies in a row, which helped. I probably had the better end of the draw, because the greens were in perfect condition in the morning, and the wind got up a bit in the afternoon. I’ve not played my best golf lately, but the difference today was that I holed a few putts – including a long one for birdie on the 15th hole – and held my concentration well. Hopefully I can keep it going over the weekend.”
O’Hara’s consistent season continued with a round of 70 which put the Scot in with a live chance of securing his maiden Challenge Tour title.
The Scot is yet to card a bogey in two days at Golf de Toulouse-Seilh in France, but a double bogey at the 13th hole after a lost ball marred an otherwise flawless round which took him to nine under par, one behind leader Marco Soffietti of Italy.
Having already accrued €92,901 in earnings, O’Hara is virtually guaranteed his card on The 2009 European Tour International Schedule. But with four of the six players currently above him in the Challenge Tour Rankings taking a break this week, O’Hara has sensed an opportunity to improve his standing.
He said: “I took a rest last week to recharge the batteries and only dropped one place in the Rankings, which was a nice surprise. So if I can pick up a decent cheque this week, it should push me up a few places. I’ve all but got my card back for next year but it’d still be nice to get that first win under my belt, because I’ve got into some good positions this season and then fell away. If I can get the win this week there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go for the Number One spot, which would be a big honour.”
Unlike O’Hara, Ruiz is by no means sure of his destiny next season. The Paraguayan is currently on the cusp of qualification for The European Tour in 21st place in the Rankings, and so needs to claim the bulk of the €140,000 prize fund on offer to boost his prospects of joining the elite.
Ruiz said: “I played well today, and I’m just happy to be in contention once again. I decided to change my putter this week, and it really boosted my confidence on the greens. I also made a couple of technical changes to my swing earlier in the week, and the results have been great. The most important thing is that I now feel comfortable over the ball. My main aim for the weekend is to stay relaxed – as always – and try to have some fun.”
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