For the first time in his professional career, Sweden’s Christian Nilsson reached the midway point of a tournament without dropping a shot as he added a 66 to his opening round of 65 to lead the Margara Diehl-Ako Platinum Open by one shot.
Nilsson, currently 18th in the Challenge Tour Rankings and therefore on the cusp of promotion to The European Tour, posted four birdies and an eagle at Margara Golf Club in Italy to lead by one shot from Taco Remkes of The Netherlands.
The Swede is clearly fond of the country, having finished in a tie for seventh at the Methorios Capital Italian Open on The European Tour earlier in the season.
Nilsson said: “To have no bogeys after two days is quite incredible – I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. I missed the green on the par three 12th hole, chipped on to about six feet and sunk the putt, but that’s probably about as close as I’ve come to dropping a shot. My driving was a little wild and I missed a few fairways today, but my short game has been working really well.
“I’ve often struggled in the past to put two low rounds together, so my goal when I set out was to be aggressive and attack every pin. I saw Taco had shot a 63, so I knew I’d have to make a few birdies to catch him. I’m in a pretty good position, now I have to finish it off. Of course my Ranking position and the possibility of a card for next season is in the back of my mind, but I can’t let myself become distracted. I’ve got to keep my focus, because that’s what’s got me into this position in the first place.”
For his part, Remkes has set his sights on a hat-trick of victories after compiling a quite stunning round of 63. Having already claimed Challenge Tour titles in Scotland and his native Holland this season, Remkes is bidding to become the first player to notch three victories on the 2008 Schedule.
The Challenge Tour rookie, who has already secured his playing privileges for The 2009 European Tour International Schedule, did his chances no harm at all with seven birdies and an eagle. That flawless round – the joint lowest of his career – moved the man from Amsterdam to 12 under par.
Remkes said: “I got off to a great start with a birdie on my first hole, and then sunk a two foot putt for eagle on the next. After that, I never really looked back. I created a lot of chances and, unlike yesterday, I took nearly all of them. My confidence is really high at the moment, and that showed in my score.
“My European Tour card for next season is already safe, so I had to set myself new targets. That keeps you sharp mentally – otherwise you might as well stay at home! One of my new goals was to win another tournament, and I’ve given myself a great chance of doing that. Nobody’s won three so far this season, so it’d be great to be the first player to do it. If I manage it this week, then obviously I’d have a good chance of finishing the season as the Number One – but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
One shot back on 11 under par is Wales’ Liam Bond, who has targeted “two golden weeks” to avoid the agonies of Qualifying School after maintaining his momentum with a 67, his second successive bogey-free round.
Bond, who was born in England but lives in Newport, is in need of a top five finish in order to guarantee a place at next week’s Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, where he would like “one last shot” at promotion to The European Tour without having to attend next month’s Qualifying School Finals in Catalunya.
The 38 year old said: “I played very solidly today – probably better than I did yesterday. I like narrower courses because my game’s all about placing the ball off the tee, and I don’t think I missed a fairway all day. I think I also found every green in regulation, so my iron play wasn’t bad either! The course seems to suit me, and if I could hole a few more putts, I’d feel pretty confident of going low again over the next couple of days.
“Knowing I had to play well this week has probably concentrated my mind a bit – just making the cut didn’t really matter too much to me, whereas finishing right up there does. I’ve just tried to stay relax and make as many birdies as I can, without forcing the issue. I did that in Kazakhstan when I thought I had a chance of winning, and end ended up getting frustrated. So I’ve got to stay patient.
“I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing for the next couple of days, and hopefully it’ll be good enough. I’d love to finish high enough here and get one last shot at the Grand Final next week. Two golden weeks, and hopefully I won’t have to go to Qualifying School. Catalunya’s a lovely place, but the players won’t be able to enjoy it because we’ll all be too stressed!”
England’s David Horsey has no such worries, having already guaranteed his European Tour card for next season. Following an indifferent opening round, the man from Manchester resurrected his hopes of joining the Race to Dubai as the winner of the Challenge Tour after a flawless round of 63 moved him from the cut line to a share of fourth place with Finland’s Roope Kakko.
Horsey, currently second in the Rankings behind his compatriot Gary Lockerbie, said: “I went in with no expectations today and just played, and the results are there for all to see. I made plenty of chances, missed a couple and took quite a few. So all in all I’m pretty pleased, because from struggling to make the cut, all of a sudden I’ve got a great chance of winning the tournament.”
In contrast Kakko’s chief aim this week, like that of Bond, is to secure enough of the €160,000 prize fund to guarantee him entry to the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final.
The Finn, who in partnership with his compatriot Mikko Korhonen won the recent Omega Mission Hills World Cup Qualifier to book their ticket to China, recovered from an opening bogey to plunder three birdies and an eagle in a round of 68.
Kakko said: “I probably played better today than I did yesterday – I just didn’t hole as many putts. Yesterday my putting was out of this world – today I struggled a bit more on the greens, particularly at the beginning of my round. But I picked it up on the back nine, and finished really nicely. It’s a course I like – it suits my eye. If you can keep the ball on the fairways, there are plenty of birdie opportunities out there.
“I played pretty well this week, and something’s just clicked for me this week. Once you start holing putts, your confidence just comes flooding back. And I gained a lot of energy from the World Cup Qualifier – it’s probably the best golf I’ve ever played. The conditions were tough, but we played really well – we won by eight shots after all! I can’t wait to play the World Cup now – but before that, I’ve got some pretty important business to take care of here.”