Inspired by the heroics of his close friend Edoardo Molinari, Italian Lorenzo Gagli took a step towards glory of his own after a five under par 67 gave him a share of the halfway lead in the ALLIANZ Europen de Strasbourg-Golf de la Wantzenau.
Gagli was among the scores of wellwishers to congratulate the elder Molinari brother following his victory at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles on Sunday to earn a Ryder Cup debut.
That performance appears to have had a galvanising effect on Italian golf with Molinari and 17 year old Matteo Manassero at the top of the leaderboard in the Omega European Masters and Gagli kept his end of the bargain with a fine display at Golf de la Wantzenau.
The 24 year old posted four birdies and a magnificent eagle on the 16th hole when his three iron approach shot from 218 yards landed six feet from the pin.
After an opening round 64, Gagli is tied on 13 under par 131 with fellow overnight leader Daniel Gaunt who also carded a 67, while Spaniard Alvaro Velasco is two strokes back and American Ryan Blaum a shot further adrift on ten under par.
Gagli, whose best European Challenge Tour finish also came in France at last year’s SAINT-OMER Open presented by Neuflize OBC, is hoping he can emulate Molinari, who won three times en route to winning the Challenge Tour Rankings last year.
“It is a great time for Italian golf with the Molinari brothers and Matteo doing so well,” said Gagli. “I think it inspires and helps us all. I’m good friends with all three of them and they are great players.
“I speak to Edoardo almost every day and it was great to see him win on Sunday. We’ve played together many times on the national team and hopefully I can get a win myself and follow him.”
Despite finding himself in unchartered waters at the top of the leaderboard, Gagli is confident he can sustain a weekend challenge.
“You have to play well to shoot a 67 and I’m happy to be leading,” he said.”The pin positions weren’t very easy today. It was difficult to shoot straight at the flag because of this and the greens were bouncy this afternoon.
“I made just one bogey again though today, when I three putted the fourth hole. Yesterday and today my only bogey was from a three putt so it shows I’m hitting it well.”
Gaunt also reaped the rewards of another aggressive display of birdie making as he chases his second victory of the season after capturing the English Challenge. He birdied the first and picked up further shots on the fifth, eighth, 12th and 14th holes to maintain his record of not dropping a shot so far in the tournament.
“It wasn’t as good as yesterday but I got it round and I was pleased to be bogey free again, just as I was yesterday,” said Gaunt. “I’m obviously doing something right when you don’t drop a shot in 36 holes but my putting wasn’t quite up to scratch today – I can’t count how many putts I left out there.
“My speed was poor early on but I made a few coming in, which was good. It would have been nice to have finished with a birdie on the last from about eight feet but it wasn’t to be.
“It was a bit breezier this afternoon especially coming down the stretch which made it different from yesterday and you had to be right on your game so I was pleased not to drop any shots. The last four holes you have to be right on it, you can’t let it slip at any time or you will rack up a number, especially on the 16th where there’s water every. It was smart aggressive play today.”
Like Gagli, Gaunt is confident his title bid will extend into the weekend given his iron play around the picturesque Golf de la Wantzenau course.
“I led after day two in the English Challenge and I led after the first round in Germany so I feel comfortable in this position,” he said. “I’m a leaderboard looker so I always strive to get into this position. If I’m not up there when I look, I want to get on there.
“I think you have to watch them to see what’s going on as it changes the way you play. I’ll be more aggressive if I’m behind and a bit safer if in front.
“I’m loving it out there at the moment and hopefully good things will come from it.”
Hoping to make a move during the third round will be Velasco and Blaum, while Welshman Garry Houston is well place on nine under par in a share of fifth place alongside Frenchman Victor Riu.
Home interest at the top of the leaderboard is also provided by 19 year old French amateur Romain Wattel on eight under par, in a share of seventh place with George Murray of Scotland and Englishman Steven Tiley.