Scott Jamieson (Getty Images)
Scotland’s dominance of the inaugural M2M Russian Challenge Cup continued on the second morning in Moscow, as Scott Jamieson surged to the top of the leaderboard.
In far more benign conditions at Tselevoo Golf and Polo Club, which is located 50km north of the Russian capital, Jamieson carded a round of 69 to move to five under par alongside overnight leader Jamie McLeary, who is amongst the afternoon starters.
Jamieson, whose tied runner-up finish at last week’s Kazakhstan Open was the best performance of his fledgling Challenge Tour career, started slowly with bogeys at the second and third holes, but swiftly recovered with birdies at the fourth, fifth and eighth to turn in 35.
After seven straight pars he closed with another two birdies to go into the weekend with a better-than-average chance of capturing his maiden Challenge Tour title.
Jamieson, currently 20th in the Challenge Tour Rankings, said: “I didn’t get off to the best start, although I actually hit a decent drive on the second, but there are two trees in the middle of fairway and I caught one of them. Then on the third I hit a poor tee shot, but after that it was much better. It was nice not to have to play in waterproofs, although the wind really picked up in places. Maybe that’s why there are so many Scots up near the top of the leaderboard, because we’re used to playing in the cold and the wind!
“Whatever the weather, the course is always great to play. The fairways are quite generous, but if you do miss them then you can really get caught out. The greens are in great shape, so I don’t think anyone could complain about the course this week. And I can’t complain about my form, because I’m playing well at the moment. Hopefully I can keep it going for the next couple of days, then enjoy a two-week break in the States with my girlfriend.”
His compatriot Raymond Russell is also in the hunt on four under par after he matched Jamieson’s round of 69.
Russell has one European Tour victory to his name, at the 1996 Air France Cannes Open, but started the season without a Challenge Tour category after struggling for consistency in recent years.
After a string of impressive performances which includes two runner-up finishes, however, he is now on the brink of a return to The European Tour.
Russell said: “It’s a very good course but also a tough one, so I’m very happy with a 69. I missed a couple of fairly short putts but I also made a fair few, so overall it was a good day. I haven’t been playing so well for the past two weeks, maybe because I started drifting away from what I normally do. I tried to change my game a little bit and perhaps tried to be a little too aggressive, so I’ve reined that in over the last two days. I’ve been playing to my strengths again, and it seems to be working for me.
“I’m obviously very happy with how I’ve been playing this season and where it’s taken me in the Rankings, but there are still four more tournaments after this week, and an awful lot can still happen in those four weeks. I’ve given myself a great chance to get back onto the Tour, and hopefully I’ll be good enough to take it.”
Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen has already guaranteed his place on the top tier next term with a series of dazzling displays in his first full season on the Challenge Tour.
Playing in the same group as Russell, Olesen matched his partner’s 69 to join the Scot on four under par.
He said: “Even though I had two bogeys in my first three holes I still felt as though I was playing well, so I didn’t lose confidence. It was quite tough out there in the wind at times, but I still really enjoyed playing the course, because it’s in fantastic condition. Even though I finished 11th in Kazakhstan I wasn’t feeling very well last week and even at the start of this week, but I feel much better now so I’m enjoying my golf a lot more. And it helps that the course is fantastic.”
Portugal’s Ricardo Santos carded the joint lowest round of the morning, a flawless 68 which also carried him to four under par.
By his own admission Santos has struggled with his game this season, but is now hopeful of finishing the season strongly and returning to the European Tour Qualifying School – Final Stage, having successfully negotiated Stage One last week.
He said: “I played well and really enjoyed it today. My driving and my putting were both much better, which was pleasing because I’ve been working really hard to improve them. My driving has been very poor over the past few weeks, but I’m much more confident on the tee now, which is so important on this course.”
England’s Matt Ford, who fathered a baby girl 11 months ago, is seeking to secure a Challenge Tour category for next season after starting the year on the EuroPro Tour, and he did his chances no harm with a round of 69.
Five birdies – including one of the 18th to banish the painful memories of a double bogey on the same hole on the opening day – saw Ford join Santos and Co. on four under par.
He said: “The birdie on 18 today was sweet revenge, after what happened yesterday. I probably played better on the first day, but just didn’t make as many putts. I hit it to about two feet on the tough ninth, which was my last hole, so I’m certainly feeling a bit better about myself today than I was last night. I tried to take the positives, as always, but finishing with a double always leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth. But tee to green I’d played really well all day, and that continued today. Hopefully if I can carry my form in to the weekend, that should secure me my Challenge Tour card for next year. I’m still trying to chase the dream, but obviously with my daughter coming along, I’ve now got an extra mouth to feed!”