A round of 69 saw Australian Daniel Gaunt maintain his lead on the second day of the inaugural English Challenge, but his advantage was cut to one stroke by Scotland’s Callum Macaulay.
Gaunt was unable to reproduce his opening day heroics, but five birdies and three bogeys on the Gainsborough Course at Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa near Colchester, Essex, moved him to 11 under par.
Gaunt currently leads by one from Macaulay, who is in turn one shot clear of a group of seven players which includes his compatriots Craig Lee and George Murray, plus English amateur sensation Tommy Fleetwood and the in-form Dane Thorbjørn Olesen.
Having virtually guaranteed his place in the top five of the EuroPro Tour already, Gaunt is almost assured a Challenge Tour card for next season. But victory at this week’s €150,000 event would earn him instant promotion to the Challenge Tour, and the man from Melbourne is ready to seize his opportunity.
He said: “I would’ve taken a 69 at the start of the day. I didn’t get off to the best of starts with the bogey at the tenth, but it’s a tough hole and the wind also made life quite tricky, so that took some getting used to. Mentally it’s sometimes tough to follow up a low round, but it’s more important than ever to stay patient, and I managed to do that for most of the day. Other than my four birdies in a row on the back nine it was a bit of a scrappy day, but I managed to get away with it.
“With the wind switching the conditions were quite tough, so that’s maybe why my scoring wasn’t quite as good as it was on the first day. But I’m still very pleased with how I’ve performed so far this week, because it’s my first Challenge Tour event of the year, and as it stands I’m leading the tournament. So I’m in a great position going into the weekend, but the tournament doesn’t really start until the last nine holes on Sunday. So whilst it’s great to be leading, I probably won’t even start thinking about winning until Sunday afternoon.”
Macaulay has taken inspiration from Louis Oosthuizen’s Open Championship victory as he, like Gaunt, goes in search of his maiden Challenge Tour title.
Macaulay was impressed by the calm demeanour of the South African, himself a former Challenge Tour player, and the Scotsman showed an equally level head to recover from an opening bogey and post a round of 68.
He said: “I took a lot from watching Louis Oosthuizen last week. He was absolutely awesome to watch – not just his game, which was obviously fantastic, but also the way he managed to stay so calm. He didn’t let anything faze him whatsoever, and quite a few times today I thought of him and told myself to keep calm and stay patient. I hit a few poor shots – even the best players in the world do – but I didn’t let it affect my state of mind. If I can keep doing the same things for the next two days and just stay in the moment, hopefully the rest will take care of itself.”
Macaulay admits to having suffered a hangover from last season, when he lost his playing privileges on The European Tour and missed out on regaining them at the Qualifying School – Final Stage by just one stroke.
But a mid-season rest and a change of equipment brought an upturn in his fortunes, making the outlook a lot brighter for the man from Falkirk.
He said: “The start of the season was just a continuation of the end of last year really, because I felt short of confidence. I wouldn’t really say I felt sorry for myself, as such, but I was just a bit down in the dumps. Then I took two weeks off and changed my equipment, and it seemed to change my luck. It just felt like I was starting afresh, and now I’m gradually getting back to where I want to be. Hopefully I can keep going, and if I keep playing well then I’ve got every chance of getting my card back.
“I definitely feel I’d be much better prepared for The European Tour if – and hopefully when – I do get my card back, because I learnt a lot about myself and my game last year. I threw myself right in at the deep end, having gone straight from amateur golf to getting my card at Q School. So I I’ll be older and hopefully wiser next time.”
Fleetwood, England’s leading amateur, is already displaying an old head on young shoulders, having rallied with two late birdies to sign for an up and down round of 69 and take a share of third place on nine under par.
Fleetwood opened with a bogey five, but recovered with four birdies to reach the turn in 33. He gave two shots back on the 12th and 14th holes after finding the trees with his drive, but soon cancelled those out with gains at the 16th and 18th.
He said: “I holed a flop shot on the 18th, which was a great way to finish because I wanted to get to nine under and within two of the lead. It had been a bit of a mixed bag until then, but that made me feel much better. If I can get a bit more consistency and keep the sixes off my card, then I’m confident of giving it a real good go over the weekend. It’s obviously a much bigger stage than I’ve been used to playing on for most of my life, but my clubs and ball don’t know whether it’s a monthly medal or a Challenge Tour event.
“There are definitely plenty of birdies out there, but I think I’ve also proved that this course can trip you up. I’ve made three sixes over the two days, but if I can keep the mistakes to a minimum, then who knows? It’d be great to go to the English Amateur Championship next week as a Challenge Tour champion – that’d certainly give me some bragging rights, because I don’t think too many players in the field would be able to say that!”
Fleetwood’s compatriot Daniel Brooks is also on nine under par after a round of 68, the same score as Australian Adam Blyth, who made it a seven-way tie for third place.
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