Edoardo Molinari (Getty Images)
There was a familiar name at the top of the leaderboard on day two of the Italian Federation Cup, as home favourite Edoardo Molinari added a flawless round of 65 to his opening 66 to move to 11 under par.
Despite persistent rain at Olgiata GC in Rome, Italy, the peerless Italian never looked in trouble, and finished with a flourish to open up a one-stroke lead at the midway stage of the €150,000 event, which is the penultimate stop on the 2009 Challenge Tour Schedule.
Molinari has already won twice on the Challenge Tour this season, but two of his nearest challengers can both also claim the same.
Like Molinari, Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts – winner of the SK Golf Challenge and the Dutch Futures – kept the bogeys off his card in a round of 66 which moved him to ten under par, alongside fellow two-time Challenge Tour champion Rhys Davies of Wales and overnight leader Simon Thornton of Ireland.
Davies, who won in Wales and Spain, dropped one shot after his par putt horse-shoed at the 16th hole. But he soon recovered with a birdie at the 17th to sign for a round of 68 and a share of second place.
All three challengers admitted they will have their work cut out to overhaul Molinari, who recently became the first man to break through the €200,000 barrier on the Challenge Tour.
The Turin resident, who watched his beloved Juventus beat Israeli side Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League group stages on Wednesday night, has only missed one cut all season, with tied 42nd his worst finish.
By his own elevated standards, Molinari got off to a slightly sluggish start with seven straight pars. But once he had picked up shots at the eighth and ninth holes he was off and running, and a further three birdies in his final four holes rounded off yet another good day at the office.
Molinari, who is defending a 100 per cent record on home soil this season, having won the Piemonte Open in May, said: “Although it was raining a lot there was probably less wind than the first day, so the course was playing very similar. I hit the ball much better today than I did yesterday, but I didn’t putt as well.
“Apart from a fairly long putt on the last and another one on the eighth hole, I didn’t make that many putts. But it was still a very solid round – I didn’t drop a shot, and never really looked like making bogey. To be fair the course is draining very well, which makes life easier. I don’t think any of our group had to take a drop for casual water all day. Once the new grass on the fairways has been given more time to settle in, I think it will be a great course because I really like the set-up.”
Despite being close friends – the pair dined together after the first round – Colsaerts is intent on derailing the Molinari juggernaut and so becoming the first player to win three times this season.
The talented Belgian got off to a flying start with an approach to two feet on the first hole, and duly added a further five birdies to sign for the joint lowest round of the day.
He said: “I got off to a great start by putting it stone dead on the first, which got me into the mix straight away. I only hit two bad shots all day, both on par fives, but I still manage to save par. I think the longest par putt was from about three feet, so I was never really in too much trouble. I was thinking clearly, and when I do that I tend to score well, which I proved today.
“I’m looking forward to playing with Edoardo. We know each other very well and we both respect each other, so it should be a lot of fun. He’s obviously playing very well at the moment, because he shot 67 even though it was raining pretty hard this morning. But I’m also playing well and feeling relaxed, so it should be a good fight, what with Rhys up there too. May be the best man win.”
For his part, Davies also acknowledged the size of the task facing him, but he remained undaunted.
He said: “I started very well with an easy birdie on the first hole, and followed it up with another one at the fourth. After that I got a bit scrappy, except for a birdie on the eighth. I didn’t do a lot wrong with the bogey at the 16th so I felt a bit hard done by, but I got it straight back at the next so there was no real harm done.
“I’m really looking forward to the weekend. You want to test yourself against the best players, and Edoardo’s clearly been the best player this season. I don’t tend to worry too much about who I’m up against, but hopefully I can push him all the way. We’ve both won twice this season, so from that point of view we’re both on the same level. I just hope I can get to three wins first.”
In contrast, Irishman Thornton is targeting his first win and a place in the top 20 of the Rankings in his first season on the Challenge Tour.
By his own admission he got off to a slow start, due mainly to a cold putter, but three birdies in his final four holes gave him some impetus to take into a weekend which could make or break his season.
Thornton said: “I played just as well as I did yesterday, except for my putting, which was like chalk and cheese. But I knew that if I kept putting it close, sooner or later the putts would start dropping – and that’s exactly what happened. I found it a bit tougher to get the pace of the greens today, because they were running a bit slower due to the rain. But once I did that, I started to make things happen rather than just waiting for them to happen. It was great to finish with three birdies in four holes, because it gave me a bit of momentum to take into the weekend.
“I’m obviously up against some good players, but I’m looking forward to it. I was in a similar position going into the weekend in Kazakhstan, but a poor third round let me down. But hopefully I’ve learned from that, and I can go in with a different mindset. I tend not to focus too much on who I’m playing with or what’s going on with the leaderboard – I leave that to my wife back home!”