Sweden’s Oscar Floren holds a four shot lead at the midway stage of the SWALEC Wales Challenge, which still has two rounds – but only one day – left to run.
All 66 players who made the cut will play 36 holes on the final day, when Floren will attempt to make his long-awaited breakthrough after a series of near misses this season.
The Swede, who is currently fourth in the Challenge Tour Rankings, has finished runner-up twice this term, including at last week’s ECCO Tour Championship.
But a course record round of 65 at a sun-soaked Vale Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort near Cardiff, Wales, moved the 26 year old to ten under par and moved him into pole position to shake off his bridesmaid’s tag.
Given that the previous course record was held jointly by five players including European Tour champions Rhys Davies – who won the event last year – David Horsey and James Morrison, it was quite an achievement by the Swede.
He said: “I was probably more pleased with the no bogeys than the seven birdies, because there are some tricky holes out there. I had two chip-in birdies today, on the 12th and 17th, which always helps. I wasn’t really in any trouble, because the fairways I missed were always in the right places.
“It’s been a long time since I played 36 holes, but we used to play it a lot in college over in the States, so I’m fairly used to it. It helps that I’ve got a good caddy on my bag, so hopefully that will give me a bit of an advantage.
“I probably won’t prepare any differently than I normally do – I’ve got to be ultra-patient, because there’s still an awful lot of golf to be played. I’ve learned from my experiences this season, where I’ve had the chance to win but not made it happen. Hopefully tomorrow’s the day when I make it happen.”
Floren’s fellow Scandinavian Marius Thorp will be trying to deny him a first professional title as he seeks his own breakthrough win.
Despite suffering with sickness and tiredness, the 22 year old notched five birdies in a round of 70 which moved him to six under par, four strokes off the lead.
Thorp, who played in the 2004 Junior Ryder Cup alongside Rory McIlroy and Olver Fisher, said: “I played really well, especially with four birdies on the front nine. I couldn’t really keep it going on the back nine, but a round of 70 is still pretty pleasing – I would’ve taken that at the start of the day. The 16th was my only really poor hole – I hit a bad drive, then got a flyer out of the rough with my third shot, and didn’t manage to get up and down. But those things happen, and I hit straight back with a birdie, so it was a nice way to finish.
“I took a lot of confidence from my first round, because to not drop any shots in those conditions was pretty good golf. I took that into today, and although I got a little tired towards the end of the round, I enjoyed playing with a bit of sun.
“Hopefully the weather’s decent again tomorrow, because we’re going to need all the help we can get. Junior tournaments are 36 holes, but it’s been a while since I last played one of them! As long as I take on plenty of fluids and we get a bit of a rest between rounds, hopefully I should be ok.
“I’ve been playing well enough and come close to winning a couple of times, so hopefully it’s only a matter of time before I get a ‘w’ next to my name. Obviously you want to win every week but that’s not possible, so it’s important to give yourself as many chances as possible. I’m in a good position, and I’m going to try my best on the final day to win. But there are a lot of good players out there, so it won’t be easy.”
Scotland’s Raymond Russell and Sweden’s Andreas Högberg share third place on five under par after respective rounds of 68 and 70.
Russell opened with a bogey but promptly rallied with six birdies in eight holes around the turn, whereas Högberg’s round was a more steady affair, the Swede carding two birdies in a flawless display of golf.
Earlier in the day, a sparkling second round of 66 saw Chile’s Mark Tullo surge through the field and move into fifth place on four under par.
Having made amends for closing his first round with a double bogey by picking up shots at the first and eighth holes, Tullo rattled off five birdies in six holes after the turn – with the only blemish coming at the 17th.
The 32 year old from Santiago is now in a strong position to mount a bid for a second Challenge Tour title in a fortnight, having captured his first at the recent Rolex Trophy.
He said: “I played really well today, and could’ve shot 62. I missed a lot of short putts but also made some longer ones, so it probably evened itself out. It can get a little frustrating, but overall I’m happy because I hit my woods and my irons very well.
“I played the par fives particularly well and my only bogey was a missed par putt from three feet, but it’s tough not to drop any shots out there. I finished with a double yesterday, which was tough to take. But after a round of 66 I’ve gone from struggling to make the cut to being in contention, so it just goes to show what a difference a day and a few putts can make.
“It’s going to be a marathon playing 36 holes in a day – it’s probably been a few years since I’ve played two rounds in the same day, so I think I should probably go to bed now! The physical side is going to be a big factor, and it may be that whoever copes with the fatigue the best comes out on top.
“Obviously it helps that I’ve got my first win, and to do it by shooting 22 under for the first time in Europe and beating Matteo [Manassero] into second place made it extra special. It helps relax the mind and body, which is what I’ll need after 36 holes tomorrow!”