Though he is growing accustomed to breaking records, Tommy Fleetwood was still taken aback by a round of 61 on the second day of the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final which rocketed him to the top of the leaderboard, and put him in pole position to become the youngest winner of the Challenge Tour Rankings.
Fleetwood’s status as one of Britain’s brightest young golf talents has been well documented, and he added another thrilling chapter to what is fast developing into a sensational story by taking charge of the season finale with the lowest round to par on this year’s Challenge Tour.
The Southport star’s career low round, which smashed the course record at San Domenico Golf in Puglia, south Italy, contained eight birdies and an eagle three at the 15th hole. His devastating display moved the supremely talented 20 year old to 14 under par and saw him open up a three-shot gap at the top of the leaderboard, with two days of the €330,000 tournament remaining.
If Fleetwood were to add the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final title to his victory at the money-spinning Kazakhstan Open, he would become the youngest Rankings winner in the history of the Challenge Tour, and the second highest money winner after Italian Edoardo Molinari in 2009.
With home favourite Andrea Pavan, who is sponsored by San Domenico Golf, hot on his heels and still in with a chance of usurping current Rankings leader Sam Little by claiming his second victory of the season, Fleetwood is taking nothing for granted. But the former English Amateur Champion is determined to give his caddie and father Pete a belated birthday present by succeeding Spaniard Alvaro Velasco as the winner of the Rankings.
He said: “That came as a bit of a surprise, because I haven’t been hitting it that well on the range. But I got it going today, and I didn’t really have to hole that much – probably only two of my putts were from more than ten feet. It was just stress-free golf today, although I did start to get slightly twitchy after the eagle on the 15th because I thought a 59 might be on, but it wasn’t to be in the end. When you’re on a roll like that, you just want to keep playing – I wish the third round started now.
“There’s obviously a lot at stake this week, but I’ve felt really relaxed since I arrived. There are still five or six of us in with a realistic chance of winning the Rankings, but it’s a much nicer position to be in than fighting for 20th place. And it’s great that I’ve got my family out here with me to keep me calm and take my mind off the golf.
“It helps having my Dad on the bag, although I don’t want to give him too much credit because it might go to his head. He’s taken some credit for the improvement in my putting over the past few months, but I’ve been spending more time on the practice green than anywhere else recently. I’ve been working with Phil Kenyon and he and my Dad make a pretty good team, so hopefully the putts keep dropping. I’ve just forgotten about technique and just concentrated more on feeling the putts, and it seems to be working.”
Pavan was suitably impressed by Fleetwood’s precocious display, but the young Italian – whose round of 65 moved him to 11 under par – remains confident of chasing the Englishman down, especially if the wind forecast for Saturday arrives.
He said: “Three shots over 36 holes is not that much ground to make up, especially if the course changes with some wind. There will still be birdie chances but a few of the holes will play longer and it will be a bit trickier, and I know how to play this course in the wind because I’ve been here many times when it’s blowing.
“Even though the conditions were perfect for scoring today, Tommy’s round of 61 was still great golf. It’s always hard to keep playing like that over four days, but if he manages to keep it going then good on him – I won’t mind finishing runner-up. I can only play as well as I can, and hope that it’s enough. There are still two rounds to go, so I definitely haven’t given up hope yet. Hopefully I’m in contention on Saturday afternoon, and then anything can happen.”
Pavan is currently one stroke ahead of big-hitting Swede Pelle Edberg and joint overnight leader Julien Guerrier of France. Respectively 26th and 37th in the Challenge Tour Rankings, both players need high finishes in order to leap into the top 20.
Having felt decidedly rusty in practice, Edberg surprised himself by compiling an explosive round of 63, which featured eight birdies and an eagle.
He said: “I had two weeks off at home, then came out here and couldn’t hit the ball on the range or in my practice round. But since the tournament started, it’s got better and better. Like last year, I probably need at least a top five finish to have any chance of getting my card. Last year I finished fifth, and ended up missing out on the top 20 by about €500 or €600. Every shot I hit counts this week. It’s nerve-wrecking, but if I put the right sort of pressure on myself then I think it helps to keep me focused.”
Guerrier notched five birdies in a flawless round of 66 which moved him to ten under par and keeps him in contention to claim one of the 20 golden tickets up for grabs on Saturday.