After one of the longest rounds of their careers, Italian Federico Colombo and Norway’s Marius Thorp found themselves on top of the leaderboard on day two of the rain-affected SWALEC Wales Challenge on the European Challenge Tour.
Almost 30 hours after hitting their first tee shots on Wednesday morning, the duo were signing for respective rounds of 68 to grab a share of the lead at the Vale Hotel, Golf & Spa Resort near Cardiff, Wales.
Unlike Thorp, Colombo is set to miss out on the lucrative Kazakhstan Open in two weeks’ time, as the Italian is currently outside the top 100 in the Rankings. Only victory this week or next would secure him a place in the €400,000 event, and the 22 year old made a solid start with seven birdies and three bogeys.
He said: “I didn’t think we were going to play today, because it rained so hard overnight. But I’m glad that we did because I played well, particularly at the start of the round with three birdies in a row. So even though the weather’s not so good, my game is good at the moment. I’ve made two three-putts but I’ve also holed some nice putts, and that made the difference.
“My long game has been in good shape for a while now, it’s only really on the greens that I’ve struggled. But hopefully I’ve turned it around now. It’s obviously still going to be tough to get into Kazakhstan, but I’ve got to give it everything because I don’t want to miss out on such an important week – especially when I’m playing well.”
Thorp’s recent form is equally impressive, with four runner-up finishes in his last eight Challenge Tour appearances moving him to 17th place in the Rankings, and on course to earn a European Tour card for the first time.
Despite playing 15 holes in almost incessant rain yesterday, remarkably the 22 year old managed to avoid any bogeys – the only player in the entire field to do so.
Thorp was joined near the top of the leaderboard by two fellow Scandinavians, Oscar Floren and Andreas Högberg, both of whom shot three under par rounds of 69.
Floren is in fine form of late having finished runner up at last week’s ECCO Tour Championship, where he still received the winner’s cheque because the champion Andreas Hartø is an amateur and therefore ineligible to claim any prize money.
The €28,800 moved Floren up to fourth place in the Rankings, and the Swede is now looking to cement his place in the top ten with a strong finish to the season.
He said: “It’s been a strange day – I woke up this morning and prepared myself mentally to play, even though I didn’t think there was much chance that we’d get out there. And it paid off, because of the eight holes I played today, I think I only missed one green.
“So it was a good, solid day, just as it was yesterday. The green staff have done a good job in getting the course ready. I didn’t have to take a drop for casual water all day and the greens are in pretty good shape, considering the rain we’ve had. You’re obviously not getting much run on the fairways, but the ball’s not sitting down either. So it could be much worse.
“It’s nice to keep the run going. Obviously it was disappointing not to get the win last week but I got first prize money anyway, so now I only need a few more good weeks and hopefully I should’ve secured my place in the top ten – which was my aim at the start of the season.”
His compatriot Högberg has less lofty ambitions, having struggled to make much of an impression this season. The Swede is still determined to make his way onto The European Tour, but feels that the Qualifying School is now a more realistic route of gaining a place on The European Tour.
Högberg, whose afternoon will be spent with his head in a book about Roman emperors, said: “I’ve really struggled this season, but it hasn’t been one particular area. Once my putting gets better, my long game seems to get worse. Then I work to improve my long game, and my short game suffers. So it’s been really frustrating, and missing out on Kazakhstan and Russia is a big blow. But hopefully I can get my game in good shape for the Qualifying School – that’s my focus now.”
Michiel Bothma and Stuart Davis made it a five-way tie for third place after both men compiled rounds of 69. South African Bothma notched seven birdies, but gave back four shots in the worst of the conditions yesterday.
He said: “Today was still really tough – there was quite a lot of casual water out there. If you hit a long stinger you might get some extra distance, but otherwise the ball stops dead. I tried to keep the ball a bit lower off the tee so that it didn’t plug, but otherwise you’re in the lap of the gods. I think the only round that comes close is the Alfred Dunhill Championship ten years ago, but this is definitely up there in terms of the longest rounds I’ve ever played. It was tiring, so I was just relieved to get off the course!”
Davis posted four birdies in his round of 69, with the only blemish of the day coming at the par five 12th hole.
The leading Welshmen were qualifier Matt Dearden and young amateur Chris Nugent, who in fast-fading light posted a highly creditable round of 71 to join Dearden in a share of 14th place.
With almost an entire day having been lost to rain, the second round will start at 7.30am on Friday morning.