England’s Sam Little equalled the course record with a stunning round of 64 to join his compatriot Charlie Ford at the top of the leaderboard on the second day of the Allianz Challenge de France.
Little, who ruined an otherwise impressive opening round with a double bogey at the 18th hole, embarked on a birdie spree as hot as the weather at Golf Disneyland, near Paris, to climb from tied 41st place overnight to the top spot on eight under par.
The 35 year old Londoner, who had his wife Maria caddying for him, is confident of ensuring a swift return to The European Tour through the Challenge Tour, having finished 182nd in The 2011 Race to Dubai.
He said: “I’ve played well for two days now – the only real difference between yesterday’s 70 and today’s 64 was that I holed some more putts. I got off to a good start this morning, and then the three birdies around the turn really kept the momentum going. It’s just good to get out there and play competitive golf again, because it’s only my second tournament in four months, which is very rare for me. But I’ve got a good run of events coming up now, so hopefully I can start to build up a head of steam.
“Obviously I’d still prefer to be playing on the main Tour, but I didn’t play well enough to keep my card last year. I got off to a really bad start, and just couldn’t get it back. I didn’t give myself enough chances and even when I did, I didn’t take enough of them. It’s a very competitive world out there, and if you’re not on top of your game, you’re going to get left behind. But I feel much better about my game now, and I think that’s showing. It doesn’t matter what Tour you’re playing on, you need to play well to succeed. There are a lot of good players out here on the Challenge Tour, but if I play as well as I know I can, with my experience I’m fairly confident of getting back onto the main Tour.”
Ford produced an almost identical round of 67 for the second day in succession, again covering the shorter front nine in 32 shots and coming home in 35 to move to eight under par.
Having narrowly missed out on graduation to The European Tour at the 2009 Qualifying School Final Stage, Ford won last year’s Turkish Airlines Challenge in his first season on the Challenge Tour, only to finish an agonising two places outside the top 20 in the final Rankings.
But the 25 year old is determined to make it third time lucky this season.
He said: “I got off to a bad start after making a few bad decisions, but after that I just stuck to my gameplan and played some smarter golf, and luckily I got some rewards. The fairways are very firm and quite narrow in places, so with the amount of run you get on your drives it’s sometimes difficult to keep it in play, and you have to be very conservative out of the rough round here. It’s a very fair course – most guys here will probably feel they’ve got a chance of picking up shots, but it can just as easily trip you up.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend now, and hopefully I can get an early win on the board like I managed last year. It was obviously disappointing to finish 22nd in the Rankings, but I learnt a lot about myself and my game which will help me this year. I did a lot of work over the winter which will hopefully improve my game even further and push me up into the top 20 or even top ten this year.”
With the afternoon starters still out on the course, Sweden’s Björn Akesson is currently in third place after signing for a round of 65 which included three birdies and an eagle at the sixth hole.
Having seen his room-mate Joakim Lagergren grab the lead on the opening day of the €150,000 event, Akesson was determined to get in on the act himself, and the 22 year old from Malmö did just that with a flawless display which moved him to seven under par.
He said: “I just played good, solid golf all day, and hit a lot of greens. My putting was good for the most part, but I missed a few short ones and three putted my last hole, which was a bit frustrating. But overall I’m very pleased, because my game’s improving all the time. It’s my first full season on the Challenge Tour this year, and so far I’m really enjoying it.
“It’s obviously a big step-up from the Nordic League, which is where I was playing last year. Out there, if you have a bad hole or even a bad round, you can get away with it a bit more. But out here, any mistakes are punished a lot more. You have to play well just to make the cut, and play really well to finish in the top ten. So far I’ve stayed very focused, and hopefully I can keep it going over the weekend.”