Despite dropping two shots in their final four holes, the English duo of Tyrrell Hatton and Sam Walker will carry a one-shot lead into the weekend of the Foshan Open.
The pair had appeared destined to open up a sizeable advantage over the field, but came unstuck at the sixth and ninth – their last hole – to slip back to nine under par and give hope to the chasing pack.
Having missed the cut in his last two tournaments and subsequently slipped to 24th place in the Challenge Tour Rankings, it is perhaps Walker’s need which is the greater this week.
The burly Birmingham native admitted he had despaired after missing out on securing a slice of the €400,000 jackpot in Kazakhstan, where a second round of 76 put paid to his hopes of making the weekend.
But after a self-administered dressing down, he regrouped and approached this week’s inaugural US$350,000 event with a more positive outlook.
That approach has clearly had the desired effect, as Walker compiled a round of 69 at the superb Foshan Golf Club to join his compatriot Hatton at the top of the leaderboard.
Walker said: “When I missed the cut in Kazakhstan I held my head in my hands, because I knew I’d missed out on a great opportunity to boost my position in the Rankings. But when I got home I gave myself a bit of a talking to, looked at where I’d gone wrong and promised to put it right – and so far I’ve managed to do that. I told myself there were three really big tournaments left this season so I wanted to give it everything, and this week has gone according to plan.
“I think the jetlag just kicked in over the last few holes today, so whilst it’s frustrating to drop those two shots, I’m not going to get too down on myself. For the first 14 holes today I played some really good stuff, so if I can keep it going over the weekend I should give myself every chance. I’ve come close to winning a few times this season and haven’t managed to finish it off, but hopefully this can be my week.”
In contrast to Walker, Hatton arrived in China buoyed by his best ever performance on the Challenge Tour in Kazakhstan, where a joint runner-up finish rocketed the young Englishman to 15th place in the Rankings.
And Hatton remains on course to claim a place in The 2014 Race to Dubai after moving to nine under par courtesy of six birdies and an eagle at the fifth hole.
With the top 15 graduating to The European Tour and a US$350,000 prize fund on offer, a top five finish this week would all but secure promotion for the 22 year old, who only turned professional in 2011.
But he will now have set his sights on securing his debut Challenge Tour title in Foshan City, China.
Hatton said: “Finishing with a bogey always leaves a sour taste in your mouth, but apart from that I played very nicely again today. And if you’d told me at the start of the week I’d be the leader when I finished my second round, I definitely would’ve taken that.
“The result in Kazakhstan helped with my confidence and belief. It’s a shame there wasn’t another tournament between then and now, because I got a little bit rusty in my time off. But if I can cut out some of the silly little mistakes I’m making, hopefully I can push on and have a decent weekend.”
Nacho Elvira is the duo’s closest challenger after a round of 68 moved the Spaniard to eight under par.
Fourth place is shared between joint overnight leader Scott Arnold of Australia and Dutchman Wil Besseling, who signed for respective rounds of 72 and 69 for a seven under par aggregate total.
Wu Kang-chan is the highest place home player on three under par after adding a round of 70 to his opening 71.