Jamie McLeary (Getty Images)
Scotland’s Jamie McLeary extended his lead to three shots at the midway stage of the inaugural M2M Russian Challenge Cup on the European Challenge Tour after an up and down day in Moscow.
McLeary’s eventful round of 69 saw him move to eight under par, three shots clear of his compatriot Scott Jamieson and the English duo of Tommy Fleetwood and Sam Walker.
The man from Edinburgh, who opened with a round of 65, picked up where he had left off with three birdies in his opening eight holes at Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club, on the outskirts of the Russian capital.
But then disaster struck, as four consecutive bogeys from the ninth hole saw McLeary relinquish the advantage he had so carefully built.
The Scotsman showed commendable mental strength, however, to pick up four shots in his closing five holes, with the highlight a chip in for eagle at the 15th.
McLeary said: “I played really well again today and seemed to be cruising, but then my round took a rather bizarre turn. I hit a bad tee shot on the ninth and made bogey, then on the tenth I got a bit of a bad break with a terrible lie. It was so bad that if I’d tried to hit a full shot, I would’ve missed the ball completely! So I just had to take my medicine and lay up, then on the next two holes I misses short par putts. So from being really comfortable, suddenly everything started coming apart at the seams.
“But I didn’t panic, and the birdie on the 14th got me going again. Then I chipped in on 15, made a good par on 16, almost eagled the 17th and missed a birdie putt on the last. So I’m feeling a lot better than I was about an hour or so ago. At the start of the week I thought eight under par might win it, so if I can sneak a couple of 72s over the weekend, hopefully I won’t be too far away. But I can’t afford to think like that – it’ll just be one shot and one hole at a time.”
Earlier in the day his fellow Scot Jamieson, whose tied runner-up finish at last week’s Kazakhstan Open was the best performance of his fledgling Challenge Tour career, carded a round of 69 to move to five under par.
Jamieson 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.”
Rising star Fleetwood shot the lowest round of the day, a 66 which included six birdies and an eagle at the par five eighth.
The 19 year old from Merseyside, who finished his amateur career as the leading scratch player on the World Amateur Rankings, seems destined for a bright professional career, having finished second and tied 11th in two Challenge Tour appearances so far this season.
Fleetwood, who started on the tenth tee, said: “I played the first few holes of the back nine terribly on the first day, but today was much steadier. I got it going with a couple of birdies on 14 and 15, then on the front nine – my back nine – I hardly missed a shot. The wind died down on the last few holes, and I certainly made the most of it. Ironically, I don’t even like the eighth hole, even though I eagled it. When I stood on the tee I didn’t really see much reason to go for it, but then I found myself with 230 yards to the green for my second, and hit a draw with my five wood to ten feet. So I like the hole a bit better now! The course in general is set up so well, and the scoring shows it’s really tough. It’s a real test, but I enjoy it.”
Fellow Englishman Walker credited an exemplary putting display to his round of 68. The Birmingham resident has rather lost his way since winning in France earlier in the season, but welcomed his return to form – especially on the greens.
He said: “The last two rounds are probably the best I’ve putted for a very long time. I didn’t play particularly well today, especially off the tee, but I got out of trouble with my putting. That’s given me a lot of confidence, and hopefully I can carry it into the weekend. If I can improve my driving, who knows where it might take me? I’ve been a bit up and down recently, but that’s mainly been down to my putting. Now that I’ve fixed that, my driving seems to have gone a bit off. But if I can bring them both together, I’ll be in good shape.”