Lee S James (Getty Images)
Lee S James’ grinding skills came to the fore on a blustery day in Brittany as a level par round of 70 saw the former Amateur champion grab a share of the lead at the midway stage of the ALLIANZ Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne on the European Challenge Tour.
After a day in which only six players broke par at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André, four-time Challenge Tour champion James sat at the head of affairs on five under par alongside home favourite Julien Guerrier, Sweden’s Steven Jeppesen and English rookie John Parry.
But despite gusting winds of up to 25mph which demanded both caution and accuracy off the tee, James struggled more with his putter than his driver.
He said: “It was very tricky to get your clubbing right in the wind, but I don’t mind that too much. I probably struggled most of all on the greens. I had a couple of three putts for bogey, and just never got to grips with the pace of the greens all day. I had a 25 foot putt on the first hole and left it about eight feet short, and that set the tone for the rest of the day! So the over-riding feeling’s probably one of disappointment, and an opportunity missed. If I’d putted even half decent, I would’ve been two or three shots better off. But I’m still well in the hunt, so I mustn’t grumble too much.
“I’d probably rather it stayed windy for the weekend, because if the wind stays calm like the first day it places more emphasis on your putting, which isn’t really my forte at the moment. Obviously you don’t want it too windy so it gets ridiculous, but a fair bit of breeze wouldn’t harm my chances at all. Usually I don’t mind tough conditions too much. The important thing is just to stay patient, because birdies are hard to come by, but it’s easy to run up a few bogeys.”
Earlier in the day, Lee’s compatriot Parry had set down a marker with a disciplined display of strokeplay which belied his inexperience.
After an inauspicious start to his Challenge Tour career in Morocco two weeks ago, when he missed the cut, Parry worked hard on his short game and reaped the rewards with the joint lowest round of the day.
He said: “I started badly yesterday but finished my round strongly, and I carried that into today. The conditions were pretty tough out there so it’s easy to make mistakes, but I had a couple of three putts which is always annoying. So whilst I maybe didn’t make the most of my round, I’ve still got to be happy with the way I played.
“When the wind’s up it’s important just to stay in play and keep the ball as low as you can, where possible. A lot of the time, you’re taking two or three clubs more than you usually would, and trying to take the wind out of play by punching it. But then it’s hard to judge how far the ball will run, so you’re in the hands of the gods a little. It’s not pot luck as such, but it’s not far off either! I like the course, but it’s pretty tough at times. You’ve certainly got to drive the ball well, which I didn’t yesterday.
“But my short game’s been working better this week, which is where I let myself down in Morocco two weeks ago. I worked hard on it last week, and it seems to have paid off. If I can keep it up over the weekend, hopefully I’ll be there or thereabouts. Obviously if I were to play really well and win, that would certainly improve my options, because as it stands my category will probably only get me into ten or 12 events this year. So my main aim is to play well in them, to secure a better category for next year.”
In contrast, Jeppesen’s chief aim is to return to The European Tour at the earliest possible opportunity, having lost his playing privileges following an indifferent season last year.
He said: “It was a lot tougher out there today, so I’ll certainly take a 70. I probably played as well, if not better than I did yesterday. But I hit two bad shots, on the 7th and 16th, which both cost me bogeys. Today it was all about trying to keep the ball in play, and then taking it from there. Around the green you’re not going to drop that many shots because the wind won’t have too much effect. But if you’re struggling with your driver, you’re in deep trouble.
“To be honest, I don’t mind if the wind stays strong over the weekend, because that might play into my hands a little. I’ve maybe got as bit more experience than some of the guys, having played in different places and different conditions on The European Tour. But there are some good players up there. I played with Julien Guerrier in the second stage of Qualifying School last year, and he put on one of the most spectacular displays of golf I’ve ever seen, so it won’t be easy if he plays like that again. But hopefully I can get my first professional win this week. If it doesn’t happen here, hopefully it will soon.”
Guerrier’s round of 69 moved the Frenchman into a four-way share of the lead, whilst his compatriot and namesake Julien Quesne is one shot back in a tie for sixth place with 2008 Challenge of Ireland winner Andrew Tampion of Australia, who signed for a 68 for the second successive day.