England’s Matt Haines and Denmark’s Andreas Hartø, two potential stars of the future, are setting the pace on 11 under par on day two of the Roma Golf Open 2010 presented by REZZA.
Haines holed a 70 foot eagle putt on the ninth hole, his last, to put the seal on a round of 67 which included birdies at the eighth and tenth holes.
The 20 year old from Kent, who has slipped out of the top 20 of the Challenge Tour Rankings after an indifferent run of recent results, has yet to drop a shot in 36 holes at Olgiata Golf Club, which is located some 30km north of the Italian capital Rome.
Haines will now go in search of a maiden Challenge Tour title which would secure him a European Tour card just five months after joining the professional ranks.
He said: “I got off to a great start with a birdie at the tenth and then played quite well on my front nine, but most of my approaches were finishing 30 feet away so I wasn’t really giving myself many chances to make birdie. It was much the same story on my back nine, until I birdied then eighth and then holed a ridiculous putt for eagle on the ninth. I definitely would’ve taken two putts from where I was so it was a bit of a bonus to see it drop.
“It was a good read from my caddie Sam – it’s his first week on my bag, so it’s working well so far! We’ve known each other since I was 11, so it’s good to have a mate to relax and have fun with away from the course. And he’s been a big help on the course because he’s great at reading the greens, which makes my life much easier. He’s in line for a nice cut of my winnings at the moment, so hopefully we’ll both be happy at the end of the week!”
Hartø burst onto the scene with victory whilst still an amateur at the ECCO Tour Championship earlier in the season, and he showed that win was no flash in the pan as he added a round of 65 to his opening 66 to join Haines at the top of the leaderboard.
The 21 year old, who cut short his scholarship at Texas State University to turn professional in the aftermath of his stunning triumph in Germany, is merely using the next two weeks to help develop his game ahead of his first full Challenge Tour campaign next year.
The Dane did not receive a single penny of the first prize, which went instead to runner-up Oscar Floren of Sweden; but after his father secured sufficient sponsorship from golf clothing company ECCO and car manufacturer Audi to enable his son to turn professional, Hartø would appear to have a bright future ahead of him.
He said: “Everything’s happened so fast since I decided to turn pro, so after these next two weeks I’ll be able to take some time out and start getting myself ready for next season. It was quite an easy decision to make in the end, once my Dad had done a great job in finding me some sponsorship.
“Me winning the ECCO Tour Championship as an amateur was obviously a pretty good selling point, so finding sponsorship wasn’t as difficult as it might’ve been. Playing professional golf is what I’ve always dreamed of, so now that I’ve been given the chance, I’m going to give it my best shot. The goal now is to play well in these next two weeks, then practice hard over the winter and hit the ground running next season.”
Sweden’s Ake Nilsson is in third place on ten under par after a round of 65 which included eight birdies.
With 11 places currently separating him and a place in the top 45 of the Rankings, Nilsson needs a top ten finish to secure a place in the season-ending Apulia San Domenico Grand Final. But his cause was not helped by a cracked driver on the 13th tee, which led to a frantic call to his club manufacturer to see if they can find a replacement.
He said: “I carried around a spare until I switched drivers quite recently. I’ve never had one crack on me before, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time, because I’ve been driving the ball very well. I don’t k now if they’ll be able to get me a replacement here in time for tomorrow, so I’m hoping the pro shop might stock one.
“If they don’t I might just have to use my three wood, which obviously isn’t ideal because it puts a bit more pressure on my approach shots. But I hit my irons very well today – of my eight birdies today, probably five were tap-ins. I got a bit sloppy during the middle part of the season, but I’ve worked hard on my game on the range and it seems to have paid off, because I’ve turned a corner in the last couple of weeks.”
His fellow Swede Joel Sjohölm is one shot back in a tie for fourth place after a round of 65.
Sjohölm – who was born in Santiago, Chile, but raised by a foster family in Gothenburg, Sweden – missed most of last season with a back injury, but has bounced back in fine fashion this term with a string of impressive results.
The 24 year old has come close to capturing his maiden professional title on a number of occasions, only to fall at the final hurdle, but is hopeful of breaking his duck over the next two days.
Sjohölm, currently eighth in the Rankings, said: “I played really well today, and probably for the first time in my life I’m disappointed to walk off the course after a round of 65. But I suppose that’s a good sign. This season’s been a real adventure, having missed most of last year with my injury. I’m playing every week and I feel like I’m contending most weeks. I still haven’t got the win under by belt, but I feel like I’m getting closer all the time.
“I still feel my back every now and again, mainly after I’ve finished my round. So I need to work hard on my fitness, shed a few pounds and get in shape for next season. I’ve virtually guaranteed my card now, but I’m desperate to finish in the top ten of the Rankings. At the start of the season I would’ve taken top 20, but then half way through the season I had my eye on the top 15. Now that I’m in the top ten, I want to stay there. The only way to do that is to keep playing well and shooting low.”
Sjohölm was joined on nine under par by Frenchman Adrien Bernadet, Italian Marco Crespi, the young English tyro Tommy Fleetwood and his more experienced compatriot Stuart Davis, whose round of 67 was blighted only by a bogey at the fourth hole.
Davis feels his game is suited by the tight, tree-lined course at Olgiata GC, rather than the wide open fairways common to many courses these days.
The 37 year old from Derby said: “I really enjoy this type of course, where you have to plot your way round a bit more and shape your ball both ways. I’m not the longest hitter in the world, but it’s not as big disadvantage here as it is on most courses these days. Golf’s going the way of just rewarding long hitters, which for me isn’t really what the game’s about. You’re not really rewarding shot makers with a lot of courses these days, so it’s nice to come to courses which do put a premium on accuracy.
“I’ve got no problem with rewarding long hitters as long as they’re also straight, but when you’ve got fairways which are 80 yards wide, it takes away the need for skill. But round here you can’t just spray it all over the place off the tee and get away with it – it tests all aspects of your game, which is what a course should do. So I’m enjoying the week so far, and I’ll enjoy it even more if I keep playing the way I have been.”
Whilst Davis joined the professional ranks almost a decade ago Fleetwood is brand new to the game, but the ultra-talented teenager has already caught the eye with two runner-up finishes to his name in his fledgling career.
Perhaps perversely, Fleetwood felt his game was much sharper than on the opening day, when he shot a 66.
The 19 year old from Merseyside said: “It was the complete opposite of yesterday – from tee to green I played really well, but just left a lot of shots out there with my putter. I put it close on the second and the fourth, but I should’ve picked up far more birdies than I did. Then when I three-putted for bogey on the 13th I started getting a bit hot under the collar, because I’d actually played really well but didn’t have much to show for it. But then when I rolled in an eagle putt from 30 feet on the 15th hole, suddenly the world seemed a much better place again. I almost eagled the 17th as well but had to settle for a birdie, so all in all it was a good day, even though I could and probably should have gone much lower.
“My goal at the start of the week was to finish in the top ten to get into Egypt next week, but now that I’ve managed to get myself into a good position, I’m definitely looking at trying to chase the leaders down. I know Matt [Haines] really well because we were regular foursomes partners all through our junior and amateur years with the England set-up, so it’d be great if we can battle it out down the stretch on Saturday. I’m probably better at chasing than leading, so hopefully I can turn these runner-up finishes I’ve been having into a win.”
Crespi, who recently took first place at the First Qualifying Stage – Section D at Bogogno, has featured predominantly on the Alps Tour this season, but proved he could more than hold his own on the Challenge Tour by opening his round of 64 with six successive birdies.
He said: “That’s a record for me – and I almost made it seven in a row on the 16th hole, but I missed from five metres. Then only long putt I holed was from eight metres on the 13th hole – other than that I was putting my irons pretty close. My approach play was the best it’s been for a long time, so hopefully I can keep it going for the next two days.”
Bernadet was equally delighted with his round of 66, which puts him in a strong position to improve on his current Ranking position of 52nd.
He said: “Today was a very good day, on a very good course. I hit a lot of fairways and greens, which I need to keep doing over the next two days, because it’s so important to get into the Grand Final. My season has been up and down, but hopefully I’m now coming good at just the right time.”
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