Andrew Tampion (Getty Images)
Andrew Tampion’s improbable search for a European Tour card took flight with a round of 66 which saw him establish a three-shot lead at the midway stage of the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final.
The Australian, currently 39th in the Rankings and without a top ten finish for four months, sits on six under par, three shots clear of Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka, who like his playing partner closed with a birdie in his round of 69.
Welshman Rhys Davies and Swede Peter Gustafsson also signed for rounds of 69 to take a share of third place on two under par alongside Scotland’s Andrew McArthur, who is hoping to climb one place into the top 20 of the Rankings after a series of near misses in recent seasons.
Needing at least a top three finish this week to stand any chance of securing a return to The European Tour, which he last graced in 2007, Tampion set about his task with gusto at a windy San Domenico Golf in Puglia, Italy, by collecting birdies at the second, third and fifth holes.
The man from Melbourne shrugged off the disappointment of his only bogey of the day at the sixth hole to collect a further three birdies after the turn and sign for the joint lowest round of the day.
Tampion said: “I didn’t do anything wrong and managed to hole some putts for a change. I’ve been playing pretty well for the past month or so but haven’t been getting my rewards, so I feel like I’m due. I’ve been hitting 15 or 16 greens most weeks, but only shooting level par or one under. So it was nice to see a few putts drop today, and it’s also just nice to see someone other than Edoardo [Molinari] at the top of the leaderboard – he’s giving us all a chance this week!
“One of my strengths is probably my accuracy off the tee, which is a definite advantage round here. I’ve managed to find most fairways, and even when I’ve missed I’ve been fairly lucky with my lies. It’s one of those courses where you have to think smart and play smart. Everyone is going to make bogeys – the important thing is not to make doubles. So far I’ve managed to do that pretty well.
“Just getting into the Grand Final was a bonus really, because a few weeks ago I was outside the top 45. You don’t expect to get your card from 39th place in the Rankings, so I’ll just go out and give it my best shot, and if it’s enough come Saturday afternoon then I’ll be delighted. I haven’t been in this position going into the final two days for ma while, so I’m going to try to enjoy it.”
Kaleka, who won in Lyon on his first appearance as a professional earlier in the season, is also currently outside the all-important top 20, but did his chances of promotion no harm with three birdies in his round of 69.
He said: “I struggled with my driving a little bit on the first few holes, but once I found my rhythm again I was ok. I still missed a few putts, but it’s not easy with the wind and the slopes, so I wasn’t too upset. I played with freedom today, and although I know there will be more pressure on the weekend, at least I know my game is solid, which gives me confidence.”
Having finished third at last week’s Italian Federation Cup Davies’ confidence is currently sky high, and he will now seek to round off his first full Challenge Tour season in some style with a third title.
The Bridgend boy opted to spurn the chance of playing at the Barclays Singapore Open on The European Tour in favour of improving his final position in the Challenge Tour Rankings, and the decision looks to have been a wise one.
He said: “It was definitely a bit easier today with less wind, but it’s still a tricky course. You won’t get a much tougher opening hole – I flushed my three wood off the fairway and only just reached the green, so a par there felt like a birdie. After that I just played very solid golf, so hopefully I can keep it going for another two days and round off the season with another win.
“Once I made the decision to come here I didn’t have second thoughts, so I’m fully committed to playing well. It was obviously tempting to play in Singapore instead because of the money on offer, but that can wait for another day. Hopefully there will be plenty of chances to play in big tournaments next season.”
Gustafsson and McArthur, respectively 20th and 21st in the Rankings, will both be hoping to join Davies in The 2010 Race to Dubai, and the duo seem set to carry their private battle into the final two rounds of the season.
Just €155 separate the two in the Rankings, though neither man is tying himself in knots trying to work out the various permutations.
McArthur said: “It was much the same as yesterday – I just tried to give myself as many chances as possible, although I didn’t putt as well. Unfortunately I got off to a slow start again – I only seem to get going once I’m two over! For both of my bogeys I only had a wedge in my hand, which was pretty unforgivable because I should’ve been looking at making birdies, not dropping shots.
“But other than that I played pretty well and drove the ball particularly well, which you have to round here. So that gives me confidence for the final two days. I haven’t given much thought to what might or might not be good enough, because I’ll just end up with a headache.”
For his part, Gustafsson is also hoping to remain ice cool in his pursuit of a place in the top 15 of the Rankings.
Gustafsson said: “It was definitely a bit calmer today than yesterday, which obviously helped. But your all-round game still has to be good. Sometimes you can be lucky if you miss some fairways, but if you keep finding the rough, you’re going to get in some tricky positions. But that’s exactly the way it should be. We’ve played on a lot of good, tough courses this year, and this is definitely one of them.
“It’s also a mentally tough week. Coming into the week in 20th place is difficult, because if I’d played badly yesterday it would’ve been all over. But luckily I’ve managed to hold it together well, and if I can get it going with the putter, hopefully everything else will fall into place. I really want to finish in the top 15, but it’s important not to get too greedy or aggressive.”
Perhaps the most significant move of the day came from Germany’s Christian Günther, who had looked in danger of relinquishing his place in the top 20 after opening with a round of 77. But a round of 66 pulled him right back into contention, as he climbed 31 places into a tie for eighth.
He said: “I got off to a bad start with a bogey at the first, but it’s a very tough hole, so my confidence didn’t take too big a knock. After that I recovered well, didn’t make any more bogeys and picked up six birdies, which has brought me right back into the tournament. I hit a lot of greens today – I only missed two – and also found a lot of fairways, which on this course is very important. I was pretty down with myself after yesterday’s round, and the last few weeks haven’t been great. But that was more like it.”