Scotland’s Jamie McLeary shot the lowest round of his professional career to open up a two-stroke lead at the midway stage of the Allianz Challenge de France.
McLeary, who won the 2009 Scottish Hydro Challenge, missed the cut in both of his previous two Challenge Tour appearances this season, but bounced back to form in spectacular fashion with a stunning round of 63 to set a new course record at Golf Disneyland, near the French capital Paris.
That earned McLeary a bottle of vintage champagne courtesy of tournament sponsors Cattier and moved him to 11 under par, two shots clear of England’s Andrew Marshall, who signed for a round of 65.
McLeary attributed his dazzling display to a renewed appetite for practice, and the 30 year old from Edinburgh has vowed to keep attacking as he goes in search of his second Challenge Tour title.
He said: “The eight birdies were very welcome but I was almost as pleased with no bogeys, because there are some very tricky holes out there. I only made one bogey on the first day, and I actually played that quite well, just had a dodgy lie in the semi-rough. So I’m playing very well, and now I want to try to capitalise on it and push on over the weekend.
“I had a few chances to win last year but got a bit too defensive and cautious, so I’m going to try to go for the jugular and be a bit more attacking at the weekend. I had a bit of a talk with myself and worked really hard on my game over the winter – my fiancée’s been a bit of a golf widow! But hopefully the hard work will pay off.
“I had a slow start to the season, which was strange because I did some winter work in America before Colombia, which went really well. I played a few practice rounds and was shooting three, four or five under par most days. But then I got to Colombia and the course just didn’t suit my game, after coming from wide fairways and big greens in America to tight fairways and tiny greens there.
“So I felt a bit lost, but then I actually played quite well in Kenya, only to throw in a few doubles, which you can’t afford to do on the Challenge Tour. But I’ve been much better here – hopefully I can keep it going over the weekend and see it through.”
Marshall moved into contention after his putter caught fire after the turn, and he came home in 30 with just ten putts.
The Englishman, who is a model of consistency, is yet to win on the Challenge Tour, with a runner-up finish at the 2001 Challenge Total Fina Elf his best effort; but remains hopeful of breaking the drought over the next two days.
He said: “I actually got off to a slow start with a bogey on my second hole, and I struggled to get the pace of the greens to start with because they were a bit slower than yesterday morning, so I was leaving everything short. But I got it going with a birdie on the 16th and another on the 18th, then after the turn all of a sudden I couldn’t miss.
“As the putts started dropping I saw my name creeping up the leaderboard, then the 30 foot birdie putt on the ninth was the icing on the cake. It was just one of those days when it felt quite easy, especially towards the end because I wasn’t really under any pressure. I’m just going to try to keep that same mindset over the weekend, try to break 70 both days and see where it takes me.”
Following respective rounds of 67 and 64, Marshall’s compatriots Charlie Ford and Sam Little are in a share of third place on eight under par alongside Nicholas Meitinger, who matched McLeary’s round of 63 late in the day.
The German recently switched to the man who coaches his compatriot and World Number Two Martin Kaymer, Günther Kessler, who recommended that he switch to a broomstick putter after enduring frustration on the greens in recent weeks.
The move paid immediate dividends, as Meitinger charged up the leaderboard to set up the chance of securing his maiden Challenge Tour title.
The six-time winner on the Satellite EPD Tour said: “I changed to the broomstick putter last week, warmed up with it yesterday and today it caught fire. I felt a bit rusty yesterday, but today my swing was much smoother. I actually swung it quite well in Colombia and Kenya but just couldn’t hole anything, which is why I decided to switch to the broomstick. After today’s performance on the greens, I think I might stick with it for a while yet!”