Spaniard Alfredo Garcia-Heredia will lead the field into the final two days of the Qualifying School – Final Stage, when the fates of the 67 professionals and three amateurs who made the cut will be determined.
Despite dropping three shots in his last two holes on the Stadium Course in Girona, north Spain, Garcia-Heredia still tops the leaderboard on 14 under par, one shot clear of Finland’s Mikko Korhonen and England’s Steve Lewton and some 11 shots better than Sweden’s Fredrik Henge, who squeezed under the cut line with nothing to spare after a spectacular finish to his round.
Henge had looked likely to be catching an early flight home after a double bogey at the 15th hole on the Tour course moved him back to level par, but after closing with three successive birdies he is still in with an outside chance of claiming one of at least 30 European Tour cards on offer to the field.
The 70 hopefuls chasing the 30 golden tickets include three amateurs: the English trio of Chris Lloyd, Matthew Nixon and Matthew Southgate.
But it is seasoned professional Garcia-Heredia who leads the pack after carding his fourth sub-par round in a row.
Garcia-Heredia took the 32nd and final card at the 2008 Qualifying School – Final Stage, only to lose his playing privileges after a season of struggle in 2009, but having signed for a round of 69 he already has one foot in The 2011 Race to Dubai.
Thus, despite carding a double bogey at the 17th hole and a bogey at the last the 28 year old, who credits his regular sessions with a sports psychologist for improving his fortunes, was a picture of contentment.
He said: “It was quite hard with the wind blowing in so many directions. You had to be sure which way it was blowing when you had the club in your hand – that was the key. The last two holes were tough. We were playing into the wind on 17 and then downwind on 18, so it was changing at the end and confusing for choosing the right club. That’s golf though – sometimes it helps, other times it doesn’t. It hurt a little to finish like that, but it was still a very good day. I’m putting very well and the greens are fantastic, so I’m feeling good and I’m in a great position.”
Korhonen’s flawless round of 66 was the lowest of the day on the Stadium Course – Jamie Elson’s 63 came on the Tour Course – and the Finn has now set his sights on following in the spike marks of last year’s ‘head boy’, Simon Khan of England.
He said: “I’m playing well and had no mistakes today, no bogeys, which is pretty good. I holed a few putts and took advantage of the par fives. I hit almost every fairway and every green, and managed to hole a few putts, so overall I had a good day. The next couple of rounds I’ll just try to be as relaxed as I can and concentrate on getting inside that 30 mark. But my aim is to win it, of course.
“I’m feeling good – not too tired. I have a good caddie, and I do some good exercises every night which keeps me relaxed. I’m not doing much practice on the range because with this much golf you don’t need to – it’s more important to save energy for the rounds.”
Lewton’s round was a more mixed affair, with two bogeys and a double bogey marring an otherwise impressive round of 70.
But after tapping in for his sixth birdie of the day at the final hole, the Englishman remained upbeat about his prospects.
He said: “I played really well, except for the 16th and 17th. I misjudged the wind on 16 and made bogey, and on 17 I hit a poor tee shot which ended on the fairway – but then made double from the middle of the fairway. I missed the green right, which was dead – anywhere left was good – didn’t get it onto the green, then chipped up to three feet and missed the putt. But on 18 I hit it to a foot, which was nice. I played really well and was happy with the way I hit it, but just didn’t make any putts.
“I had lots of chances for eagles out there, but couldn’t convert them. I feel like I putted alright but I can’t get it in the hole. I’m just trying to plod along and keep shooting under par every day – that’s the main goal. If I keep doing that, I’ll be happy. The birdie on 18 keeps the momentum going. After going bogey-double it was a big finish, because it changes your mindset. I’m now going to bed happier than I was earlier.”
His compatriot Nixon was also all smiles after following yesterday’s stunning round of 65 on the Stadium Course with an equally impressive 64 on the Tour Course to climb to 12 under par.
He said: “I’ve felt weirdly relaxed all week. Coming from amateur golf, I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the standard. I’ve obviously played with a few pros in the past, but I didn’t really know what sort of standard it would be. I didn’t get my week off to the best of starts, but I’ve slowly managed to claw it back over the past couple of days.
“My last two rounds have been the best of my whole year, so I’ve picked the right time to come good! I wanted to come here and enjoy myself, and so far I’ve definitely managed to do that. I could definitely get used to life on Tour – there’s the Mizuno truck and the Race to Dubai physio unit, although I’ve not had the bottle to go in there yet! I felt a bit out of place at the start of the week, but I’ve slowly started to relax and enjoy it more. It’s helped that the weather’s been good for the last couple of days, and the courses are both in great nick.
“I played really the Stadium Course really well yesterday, so it doesn’t hold any fears for me, even though it’s probably the harder of the two tracks. But golf’s a funny game – it has a funny habit of reminding you who’s the boss, when you least expect it. But I feel in control of the golf ball – if I can control my emotions too, then hopefully I’ll have a good chance of getting my card, which would be a huge bonus.”
Spaniard Carlos Del Moral, who finished in the unenviable position of 21st in the Challenge Tour Rankings, provided one of the highlights of the day with an albatross at the 533-yard seventh hole.
He said: “It came at the perfect time for me because I was struggling a little bit. It was a four iron from 208 yards, up the hill. It’s the first time I’ve ever had an albatross and it was awesome. It was up the hill so I couldn’t see that it had gone in. I knew it was on the green and thought it had a chance to be close, but it was a great surprise when I walked onto the green and saw it in the hole.”