Two days were required to complete the first round at the inaugural Shankai Classic presented by IDG, but upon the completion of 18 holes at Chongqing Poly Golf Club, it is Paul Maddy and Mark Tullo who have streaked four shots clear of the field at seven under par.
Just 15 minutes of golf was possible upon the resumption of play on Friday morning before poor visibility called a halt to proceedings once again, and after a delay of five hours and 45 minutes, it was decided that the tournament would be shortened to 54 holes.
In the knowledge that the cut would also come after the first round, and limited to the top 50 players and ties – with those in the top 60 also earning prize money – there was no doubt in the player’s minds as to what was required on Friday afternoon.
Already six under through his first ten holes, Maddy picked up where he left off on the second day to post one final birdie at the par five 18th and sign for a 65, a score matched by Tullo thanks to a scintillating five under par score on the front side.
The Chilean has struggled throughout his career with a bad back, and after an MRI and a course of anti-inflammatories, he has started to feel a little closer to his best as he makes one final push for his European Tour card.
Tullo readily admitted after his round that the stop-start nature of the opening 18 holes definitely helped him manage his injury, but with uncertainty still surrounding the weather and how many holes will be possible over the weekend, he will hope to continue the fine putting form that has put him in such a strong position so far.
“I played amazing on the front nine and only shot two under,” said the man at eighth on the European Challenge Tour Rankings. “I could have shot way under there, but the putts weren’t falling. Then I kept on playing great after the delay, overnight and then this morning, but putted amazing!
“The putts were falling left and right. I was hitting good iron shots, and didn’t miss a fairway or green, but it was the putting on the front nine that was amazing. I made five birdies there and it could have been more, but I holed some long ones today, and in these conditions the greens are tricky and I was just draining them.
“I’ve been playing pretty good lately so it is nice to see a good score, and I’ll try and continue the good play tomorrow and I’m pretty excited. It doesn’t matter how many rounds we get in, I’ll try and shoot my best score and we’ll see what happens.”
As for Maddy, who only got the call to come and play last Saturday morning, he was very pleased to continue his form of the previous day on a week that could yet define his season.
The 33 year old has never finished higher than a tie for sixth on the second tier, which came at last season’s Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, but he is in position heading into the weekend to do much better than that, and with a US$3,500,000 prize fund this week, a career-best finish could well put him in contention for a rookie season as part of The Race to Dubai next year.
“It feels like we have been out there a long time,” said Maddy. “To shoot seven under though is great, and I did not expect that with the weather we had yesterday, but I got off to a great start holing my second shot at the third with a rescue from 215 yards, and just carried on the momentum from there really. There were a couple of good par saves in there too, but I holed some good putts, and that’s about it.
“I slept well last night, but to pick up this morning was a little awkward with it being so stop-start, and it would have been nice to start and finish it off, but we weren’t able to. So we were in the club house for a while, but to get back out after that was nice, and I hit some good shots without making any birdies.
“My thought process before I started was that because of the weather I have to play every round like it is the last one we are going to play in this tournament, to take advantage where I can, and have fun really. This is the first time I have been up in this position, so I just want to try and enjoy it.”
Both Maddy and Tullo are four clear of a chasing quartet in third at three under par, a group that not only includes Edouard Espana and Antonio Hortal who finished their first rounds on Thursday, but also three-time European Tour winner Johan Edfors and Denmark’s Lasse Jensen who both matched their score of 69 today.
There are a further nine players just one shot further back in a share of seventh, with Björn Åkesson, Julien Guerrier, Joakim Lagergren, Chris Paisley, Nicolo Ravano and the leading Chinese player Hu Mu, joining a trio of players who posted the same score yesterday – namely Cyril Bouniol, Alvaro Velasco and Pontus Widegren.
Byeong-hun An was the highest ranked player in the field coming into this week, but the man at fourth on the Rankings carded a triple bogey seven at the fifth to miss the qualifying mark by a single stroke.
Home hopes will look like being carried by Mu over the final two rounds, but he will be joined by ten of his compatriots in the chase for Challenge Tour glory.