By Nick Totten, europeantour.com
From Golf & Spa Kunetická Hora
On a much dryer day at the D+D REAL Czech Challenge, overnight leader Daniel Gaunt saw his advantage over the field cut to one after a second round of 69 at Golf & Spa Kunetická Hora.
Four birdies and a solitary bogey at his penultimate hole, the eighth, saw the Englishman finish at 11 under par through 36 holes and narrowly ahead of his nearest rival Chris Lloyd.
Starting the round seven strokes adrift of Gaunt, who was out in the morning on day two, did not daunt Lloyd. He carded six unanswered birdies to post a 66 of his own in the afternoon and pull within touching distance of the leader going into the weekend, having not dropped a shot all week.
Three shots further back are Edouard Espana and Pontus Widegren, but it is Gaunt who, although slightly disappointed with his score, remains out in front heading into the weekend.
“It was good out there today,” said the 35 year old. “I felt like I could have shot eight under again, but the putts didn’t quite drop. I feel like I putted good again but nothing went in, so to walk off with three under is a little bit disappointing, but as I’m 11 under and one clear, I can’t really complain.
“Some days you see the line and some days you don’t, and today I just had to grind it out, try and hole a putt somewhere along the line and just stay patient. I did that today, and we’ve got the weekend to go now.
“I’m a good front runner, but if people start chasing me down I’ll just have to keep playing and take it one shot at a time. I’ve won before, but I’d like to have won more, that’s what we’re here for. It’s going to be fun over the next couple of days.”
Lloyd is still in search of a maiden win on the Challenge Tour, and returns to the second tier of European golf having lost his place on The Race to Dubai last season.
He has been going through some swing changes of late after a return to his childhood coach, and after a tie for 17th last week at the Kärnten Golf Open presented by Mazda – and with his form so far this week in the Czech Republic – it looks like that hard work is starting to pay off.
“Very steady again today,” said the Bristolian. “Lots of patience involved as I was only one under through my first nine holes, then I just found a bit of a groove on the back nine and played really nice. I only holed one nice putt on the sixth, whereas everything else was inside ten feet for my birdies.
“All players look at leaderboards, and you try not to get too caught up in it, but it was the same as yesterday. I kept a good attitude and did what I do best, although patience is not exactly a family trait. That nine holes is the best I’ve hit it and swung it for as long as I can remember though, especially my iron play, which was great.
“I learned a lot about myself last year on The European Tour, and coming back here motivates you to get back up, it keeps you going forward. It’ll just be the same again over the weekend, keep a good attitude and the rest will take care of itself.”
Espana, who shot a 67 in round two, narrowly missed out on his European Tour card last year at the Qualifying School Final Stage, finishing one stroke outside that all-important top 25 and ties that moved on to The Race to Dubai at PGA Catalunya Resort last November.
He has been playing well of late though, finishing in the top 30 in each of his last four starts, and he and Widegren are one stroke clear of Cyril Bouniol, who is part of a six-way tie for fifth after a second consecutive round of 69.
Also in that log jam at six under par is the winner of a fortnight ago in Turkey, Oliver Farr, who fired an excellent round of 65 on Friday to rocket up the board. He is alongside Florian Fritsch (68), Jack Harrison (67), Thomas Linard (68) and Ross McGowan (68), all five behind the leader Gaunt.
There was also plenty for home favourite Lukáš Tintěra to get excited about, as not only did he shoot a 67 to finish at one under and be the only Czech player to make the cut, but he also had a hole in one.
His ace on the par three eighth hole earned him a watch worth around €35,000, which is reward for holding home hopes on his shoulders through the final two rounds.