England’s Robert Coles stepped up his bid to capture a third title of the year on the European Challenge Tour and secure instant promotion to The European Tour at the SK Golf Challenge in Finland.
Coles, in his 15th year as a professional, fired a three under par 69 to sit in a tie for fifth place just two shots behind halfway leader José-Filipe Lima of Portugal at Linna Golf near Helsinki.
The 36 year old from Essex, who won in Morocco and Ireland this season, currently lies third on the Challenge Tour Rankings, but a third victory within four months would ensure immediate access to this season’s main Tour events as a Category 10a graduate.
Coles, a Challenge Tour graduate in 2003 and a four-time qualifier from the Qualifying School, admitted that he was inspired by the crowds following his group, which included Finnish favourites Mikko Ilonen and Roope Kakko.
“This is not a million miles from a European Tour event in terms of scale, quality and atmosphere” said Coles, who drew inspiration from the fans following their local heroes. “This is one of the best weeks we’ve had on the Challenge Tour this season and it’s good to play a great course which backs up the excellent organisation.
“I’ve been in good positions a few times since winning twice earlier in the year but haven’t been able to finish it off. Maybe I can convert this time from what looks like a pretty healthy position going into the weekend. It would be nice to secure that card with a third win.”
Lima used the experience of four years on The European Tour to climb to the top of the leaderboard, one stroke ahead of Frenchman Julien Guerrier, Scotland’s Jamie McLeary and Roland Steiner of Austria.
The 27 year old French-born Portuguese fired a second round of 68 to improve his prospects of returning to the main Tour through his Rankings position. Lima is currently ranked 156th on The Race to Dubai on The European Tour and fifth on the Challenge Tour Rankings, but is aiming to concentrate on the Challenge Tour to obtain his playing rights for 2010.
“I will play in the Portugal Masters on home soil, but otherwise I will be focusing on the Challenge Tour” said Lima, who owes his high position in the Rankings to a runner-up finish in the SAINT-OMER Open presented by Neuflize OBC.
Victory in that same event in 2004 provided Lima with a passage to The European Tour and he retained his card for the next three years before making an unsuccessful return to the Qualifying School – Final Stage last November.
However those years at the top have stood him in good stead this week. He pointed out: “This is a very, very strong test of golf with thick rough and fast greens, much like The European Tour. You absolutely have to keep the ball in the fairway here to get the reward of the good greens.”
McLeary, aiming for back to back wins after capturing the Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore last weekend, added a 71 to his opening 68 to sit on the shoulder of Lima on five under with the flying Finns Kakko and Antti Ahokas one stroke further behind on four under.
He said: “The season is all about getting that card, but winning last weekend was brilliant” he added. “In the past I’ve played to make the cut but now I feel I am playing to win. The feeling of being in contention last week was great and I want more of that this weekend.”
Double European Tour champion Ilonen is just outside the top ten on 142, two under par, with former Ryder Cup player Jarmo Sandelin on level par 144.