Hugo Leon will go into the knockout stage of the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9 as the number one ranked player after he topped the leaderboard on nine under par on Day Two, the final day of regular stroke play.
The Chilean charged up the leaderboard with a stunning six under par round to join Stuart Manley at the top.
However, with Leon carding the better second round out of the duo, he will be the top seed in the match play format, where the top 64 players will compete in a series of nine-hole battles.
The 33 year old claimed four birdies on his front nine to begin his second round with momentum. His confidence surged with another gain at the start of his back nine.
The two-time winner on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada gained two more birdies in the Spanish sunshine, and even with a bogey on the last, his spirit was not dampened as he shared top spot with Welshman Manley.
In his first season on the Challenge Tour, the former US Open player is delighted with his two days’ work and is looking forward to an intense weekend of match play.
“My game has been very good so far and it’s nice to see all the parts of my game are coming together,” he said. “This is the first week this year that I feel my putting is the way I know it should be, which is something that is really exciting for me.
“I’ve never played in a format like this before and I anticipate it being really, really intense from the get-go. It’s only nine holes playing against professional golfers and anything can happen, so the game has to be sharp from the get-go – there’s no laying off on it. I’m looking forward to it!
“It’s the first time that I’ve taken the lead on a Challenge Tour event. It is something I’m planning on doing a couple more times this year.
“I’ve played some really good golf and I’m planning on doing the same thing over the next couple of days.”
Manley shared first place with Leon after a round of 69. The 39 year old has led in three of the last four rounds on the Challenge Tour, and he continued to impress once again in Spain.
He bounced back from a bogey on the third hole with two successive birdies on holes four and five. Two more gains and one bogey on his back nine meant he held firm at the top of the leaderboard until Leon’s afternoon surge. However, the former Walker Cup winner will be eager to keep his good form going throughout the match play.
“Obviously you’re going to have a tough opponent every match and you can’t look past each game, so I’ll be very focused on the nine holes tomorrow against my opponent and hopefully I can get a win,” he said. “I like to play the opponent now and not the course. I’ll see exactly what he does and whether I need to push, whether I need to be safe, so I’ll definitely be playing the opponent.”
Last to make the knockout stage were Spain trio Mario Galiano Aguilar, Jose I Marin and Daniel Berna Manzanares, plus German Julian Kunzenbacher. They all progressed through the play-off at the end of Day Two on the par three ninth. All four carded pars whilst fellow play-off competitors JR Galbraith and Ben Parker bogeyed the hole.