Colombia’s Manny Villegas, younger brother of World Number 11 Camilo, forced his way into contention in the ALLIANZ EurOpen de Lyon with a five under par 66 at Golf du Gouverneur in France.
Villegas, three years the junior of his more famous brother who is competing this week in the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, is playing only his third Challenge Tour event as he looks to establish himself on the golfing stage.
His five under par round, which included an eagle three on the third where he chipped in, took the 24 year old to six under par and within striking distance of the leaders.
Having turned professional last year after finishing at the University of Florida, Villegas won only his second event as a professional when he captured the 2008 Colombia Open. Since then he has been competing around the world in Canada, Japan, Australia and on the American mini Tours, and he now hopes to use the Challenge Tour as his route to The European Tour.
“Things are going well and I am having a lot of fun,” he said. “Hopefully I can get it going this weekend and then play more over here. It depends on how well I do over here but I would love to come and play on The European Tour.”
While admitting that growing up there was the usual sibling rivalry, Manny claims that is behind them now as Camilo, who he shares a house with in Florida, is now more of a coach for his game and course management. “He has been there and done it for a lot longer than me and helps me a lot. Even though we share a house, we can go for long periods not seeing each other if our schedules don’t work out but he will always help me improve my game.”
Villegas lies one stroke behind last week’s runner-up Florian Praegant of Austria, who set the early clubhouse target by moving to seven under par 135 following a 68.
Praegant was given seven invitations to earn more than 80th place in last year’s Rankings which would entitle him to unlimited invites. His earnings came up just €1,500 short of what he needed from his seven starts but he has one more bite thanks to his top ten of last week. A top 20 finish in Lyon will carry him over the threshold and he will be able to get some more invites, otherwise his Challenge Tour season is effectively over.
“It will be a very short season if I don’t make it this week,” admitted Praegant, who played on The European Tour last season but couldn’t hold on to his card after finishing well down the Order of Merit in 249th place. “The difference these last couple of weeks has been the putting and that has helped my confidence. I know what I need to do to extend my season and so far so good. If I have a good weekend I should be fine.”
England’s Ben Mason held his ground with a one under par 70 to lie alongside Villegas on six under par, while Welshman Liam Bond made a significant move with a five under 66 to also finish on six under at the halfway stage.
Bond eagled the eighth hole for the second day in a row, this time chipping in from the edge and added three other birdies to his card to move amongst the leaders.
“The eighth is proving to be my favourite hole on the course – a nice easy par three,” he quipped.
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