Nicolas Colsaerts (Getty Images)
On a day when it was announced that golf will return to the Olympics in 2016, Nicolas Colsaerts, whose great grandfather represented Belgium in basketball and water polo at the 1920 Games, grabbed a share of the lead at the ALLIANZ Golf Open Grand Toulouse.
A stupendous morning round of 62 – the lowest of a career which has undergone a recent renaissance – moved Colsaerts to 13 under par, level with Argentine starlet Alan Wagner and overnight leader Matthew Zions of Australia.
On the same course where he had won the French International Boys Championship in 2000, beating a young Italian by the name of Francesco Molinari into second place, Colsaerts carded eight birdies and an eagle at the 17th hole in a flawless round.
The Belgian, who in 2000 became the second youngest player to graduate onto The European Tour through the Qualifying School, is bidding to capture his third Challenge Tour title of a remarkable campaign, having already won the SK Golf Challenge and the Dutch Futures.
With a return to The European Tour already assured next year – he currently sits fourth in the Rankings with earnings of €99,630 – Colsaerts can afford to relax and enjoy the remaining three events.
And the 27 year old, who did not even have a Challenge Tour category at the start of this season after a wretched run of results last year, has already started to plan for his first steps in The Race to Dubai.
He said: “I played with Charles-Edouard [Russo] yesterday, who made 11 birdies and made it look pretty easy. So that changed my mindset. I really got into the zone from the 17th hole, which was my eighth, where I holed out from 100 metres with a lob wedge. After that, it just snowballed. A few putts shaved the hole so I could have gone even lower, although I also had a couple of good breaks so I probably got what I deserved.
“I couldn’t really remember the course that well, because it was nearly ten years ago when I last played here. But it’s always nice to come back to a course where you’ve won before, especially as I beat a great player like Francesco – although our careers haven’t exactly taken the same paths since! But hopefully I can prove I can play a bit on The European Tour next year, and if I can win here this week, my chance might come sooner than I expected. If it doesn’t happen here, I know I won’t have to wait much longer.
“I’m really excited about getting back onto The European Tour – I’ve been counting down the weeks for a while now. At the start of the season, my main goal was just to get into for the Qualifying School Final. But as the season’s gone on, I’ve had to keep setting new goals. Hopefully I’ll be setting some more on Sunday night.”
Zions’ need is perhaps greater, as he currently sits two places outside the top 20 which earn promotion to The European Tour. But the Australian will adopt the tried and tested method of taking one shot at a time in his bid to secure the result he craves.
He said: “I had a chance for another birdie on the last which I left in the jaws, but I can’t get too greedy. I hit a few dodgy shots today, but for the main part I was very solid, and I probably hit it a bit closer today. I also sunk a few cheeky longer ones, but I maybe deserved them because my game was pretty solid. It’s never easy to follow up a good round with another one, so I was pleased to go low again. I just tried to forget about yesterday and go out there as if it was the first day of the tournament. If I can keep that attitude over the weekend, I should be ok.
“I haven’t played in the last group since Morocco earlier in the season, so I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a welcome change, but I’ve been playing well for quite a while now, so I feel it’s probably due. I just need to stay nice and free, and forget about everything else. My swing feels good, and I’m putting really well. Every putt I stand over I’m confident of holing, which makes such a massive difference. If you’re tentative with your putting, you’ve got no chance. But at the moment I feel I have a chance.”
At the other end of the experience spectrum is Wagner, who earlier this season followed in the footsteps of his close friend Tano Goya in winning an event co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour and the Tour de las Americas.
Since then he has slowly slipped down the Rankings, but a second success would put him on the threshold of joining Goya on The European Tour.
Wagner, whose round of 64 included a birdie-eagle-birdie finish, said: “It was a very good day. I drove the ball straight and found nearly all the greens with my second shot, so I’m very happy. I had a great finish, which will give me a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. I will probably need to play very well over the next two days, but I believe I can do it. I’m looking forward to the weekend. I’ll try to ignore the leaderboards and just focus on my game. If I can do that, I have a good chance of getting back into the top 20 in the Rankings.”
Federico Colombo shares fourth place on 12 under par with Roland Steiner, who matched the Italian’s round of 65.
Finland’s Antti Ahokas, Sweden’s Ake Nilsson, Frenchman Charles-Edouard Russo and Scotland’s Peter Whiteford are all one shot further back on 11 under par.