Alexandre Kaleka belied his inexperience as he took a one stroke lead into the weekend of the ALLIANZ EurOpen de Lyon in France, just five days after turning professional.
The 22 year old Frenchman birdied his penultimate hole, the eighth at Golf du Gouverneur, for a four under par 67 and 12 under total of 130, one ahead of Denmark’s Anders Schmidt Hansen and four clear of the chasing pack.
Kaleka, who only turned professional on Monday after representing France in last week’s European Amateur Team Championships in Wales where they finished fifth, might have been expected to buckle after finding himself in a share of the first round lead. But a birdie on the 12th and eagle on the 15th kept him in front and, despite dropping a shot on the first and not hitting a fairway on his back nine, he conjured up two more birdies to take the outright lead.
“I am staying calm and it was nice to have a few people behind me today,” he said. “The score was okay but I found it difficult to hit the fairways and that was a big difference. I just need to try and find the fairways tomorrow and if I drive well I will be okay. I am pretty confident with the putter so just need to try and get the ball in position.”
Hansen is hoping to join the growing band of Danish golfers on The European Tour and take his place alongside his namesakes, Anders and Søren. Like all Danish golfers, he has been inspired by Thomas Björn and all he has achieved, but it was seeing his old travelling companion on the Challenge Tour and amateur teammate Jeppe Huldahl win the Celtic Manor Wales Open last month which opened his eyes to what is possible.
“Thomas Björn has been huge for Danish golf and inspired every golfer,” explained Hansen. “He broke the boundaries and now golf is the second most popular sport in Denmark. There are a lot of very good Danish golfers on The European Tour now, but seeing that Jeppe could go out and win was fantastic. Now I know what is possible.”
Hansen birdied two of his three opening holes and holed a five metre putt on the ninth to go out in 33. Two more birdies and a solitary bogey coming in gave the 31 year old a four under 67 and 11 under par total of 131.
Scotland’s Andrew McArthur ran up a costly double bogey on his final hole, the ninth, for a one over 72 to fall back into the group on seven under par. Spain’s Carlos Rodiles eagled the 15th on his way to a 65 to join the group on seven under that included Australian Tony Carolan (70), Portugal’s José-Felipe Lima (67), England’s Philip Golding (68) and last week’s runner-up Florian Praegant (68).
Among the players a further shot back and very much in the mix is Colombian Manny Villegas, the younger brother of World Number 11 Camilo.
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.”
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