Ian Keenan signed for a sparkling round of 64 at the Credit Suisse Challenge to join rising star Andrea Pavan at the top of the leaderboard at the midway stage of the €150,000 Challenge Tour event.
Keenan, who graduated from the EuroPro Tour last year, has struggled to make an impact in his first full season on the Challenge Tour, having missed the cut in eight of the 11 events in which he has competed.
But the 35 year old from Liverpool, England, banished the disappointment with six birdies and an eagle to move to nine under par at Golf Sempachersee near Lucerne, Switzerland.
Keenan credited a holed wedge shot for an eagle two on the ninth hole as the spark that ignited his round, which bettered his previous lowest round on the Challenge Tour by two strokes – albeit with preferred lies in operation.
He said: “I had a great time out there today, and I just continued where I left off yesterday really. I made good birdies on the first, fifth and seventh holes, so I got off to a good start. I then found the semi-rough on the ninth, and wasn’t really thinking about anything else but finding the middle of the green, and walking away with a par. But I hit the perfect wedge, and in she went. I haven’t holed a long shot like that for a few years, so it was a massive bonus and all of a sudden I started thinking it might be my day. Everything I did after that was positive, except for the bogey on the 15th, where I got what I deserved after a poor tee shot. But to hit straight back with a birdie on the 16th was huge for my confidence and my momentum, so that was probably shot of the day.
“I’m just happy to be in contention, because it’s been a terrible year so far. I expected a lot more from myself after playing well on the EuroPro Tour last year, but for whatever reason it just hasn’t happened for me this year. But sometimes you only need one good week to kick-start your season, and I’m hoping this week is that week. We’ll just have to wait and see what the next two days bring.”
Pavan enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a round of 67 which would have been even lower but for a funny turn in the middle of his round.
The Italian, who turned professional at the start of the year, opened his account with a gain at the ninth hole, and duly reeled off four straight birdies from the 12th – where he chipped in – to the 15th hole – where he sunk a huge putt – to surge clear of the chasing pack.
After finding the middle of the 17th fairway, Pavan had designs on carding his fifth birdie of the day, only to mishit his approach and take three putts for an untidy bogey.
To compound the error he again three-putted the next green, this time for a double bogey, to undo all his hard work.
But Pavan regained his poise in impressive fashion to register three birdies on the way home for a four under par round of 67.
He said: “I played pretty well, although I still don’t feel I’m right at the top of my game. I don’t know what happened on the 17th and 18th – it was weird. I was in the middle of the fairway both times and ended up making bogey-double bogey. I didn’t hit especially bad approach shots, but I got a little bit unlucky and then three-putted both greens. So from going along nicely, suddenly I’d dropped three shots out of nowhere. It was like the lights had gone out. It could’ve had a snowball effect, but I was very happy with the way I handled it, because I played very well on my back nine.”
Following a wretched run of results which has seen him miss the cut in his last three events, Pablo del Grosso bounced back to form with a round of 65 for an eight under par halfway total.
The Argentine’s only blemish of the day came at the testing 17th hole, which has been converted from a par four to a five for the purposes of the tournament; but he rallied in superb style with five successive birdies before making a further gain at the seventh hole to surge into a share of third place alongside Frenchman Benjamin Hebert, Denmark’s Daniel Lokke and home favourite Nicolas Sulzer.
Del Grosso said: “I drove the ball very well today which you need to do on this course, because if you find the thick rough you’ve got no chance of reaching the green. I think I only missed two greens all day, and made most of my short putts plus three long ones, on the first, third and fifth holes. It was good to play well, because my form recently has been really bad. But hopefully this week is the start of a good run for me, because I need to start climbing the Rankings very quickly.”
Sulzer delighted the locals with a second successive round of 67, which ended on a high note with a birdie at the final hole.
The Geneva native competes predominantly on the Alps Tour, one of the Challenge Tour’s approved satellite tours, but proved he could more than hold his own at the higher level by joining del Grosso on eight under par.
Sulzer said: “I’m striking the ball very well at the moment – I think I’ve only missed four greens over the two days. The highlight of the round was the birdie on the 18th, because there were a few people watching so it was nice to hear a cheer when the putt dropped. Hopefully there will be even more people over the weekend and I can keep my good form going.”
Like Sulzer, Hebert also carded a round of 67 for the second day in a row, although the 24 year old from Brive – who has returned to the Challenge Tour this term after losing his playing privileges on The European Tour last year – was left to rue a below-par short game.
He said: “The course was playing a little bit shorter today because the fairways were much firmer, so I was able to take advantage. My putter was working very well again today, but my chipping wasn’t so good. On two of the par fives, the fourth and the seventh, I was just by the side of the greens, so had fairly easy up and downs to make birdie. But I didn’t hit either chip close enough which was very disappointing. So I’m just going to work on my chipping now, and hopefully tomorrow it’ll be much better.”
Lokke mixed five birdies with a solitary bogey in his round of 67 to make it a four-way tie for third place on eight under par.
He said: “It was solid from the first to the 18th, and my only mistake was a three-putt bogey on the eighth. I made lots of birdie chances which I didn’t take, but if I can get my putter working well over the weekend, I’m confident of going even lower. I’ve never really been in contention on the Challenge Tour before, so I’m very excited about what the weekend might bring.”