A flawless eight under par 62 from Mikko Korlonen spearheaded a Scandinavian surge on Sunday at the Qualifying School Final Stage as the Finn and Sweden’s Mikael Lundberg – joint second overnight – were joined in the top ten by compatriots Joakim Lagergren and Oscar Floren following the second round at PGA Catalunya Resort.
After struggling to a two over par 74 on the more difficult Stadium Course on a gusty Saturday, Korhonen embraced the benign conditions on the equally spectacular, if marginally more straightforward, Tour Course as an unblemished eight birdies fired the Mäntsälä native 55 places up the leaderboard into a share of second as the marathon contest progressed in northern Spain.
Starting on the back nine, Korhonen, who finished eight places outside the graduate spots in 28th position on the Challenge Tour in 2012, made three birdies to turn in 32 before covering a sublime homeward nine in a mere 30 blows, aided by a hat-trick of birdies from the fifth– the first coming after a stunning six iron to within two feet.
“My ball striking was absolutely unreal today, like laser beams,” said Korhonen, who played a maiden European Tour season in 2011 after gaining the third card at the 2010 Final Stage.
“I actually only holed two putts today and all the other ones were just tap-ins and golf is pretty easy when you don’t have to putt!
“I’ve played well the last three events on the Challenge Tour so it’s not out of the blue; it’s been coming for a while.
“It is good to get up near the top but there are still four rounds to go so you try to not get carried away. I think the key is you have to still go after birdies, try to get to the top of the leaderboard and most importantly try to win it – just like any other tournament.”
As Lundberg led the Scandinavian way on Saturday with a highly impressive 68 on the Stadium Course in the worst of the conditions in the first round, his countryman and fellow Helsingborg resident Lagergren and another Swede, Floren, were also quietly and efficiently going about their business in the first round, with both men signing for one under par rounds of 71 on the 7,333-yard Stadium layout.
Lagergren, who turned 21 last week, rallied after an early bogey at the par three second on Sunday with five birdies – including three on the back nine – to sign for a four under par 66 and a place in the top seven, just two shots off the lead.
“I three-putted on the second hole and was one over after five holes so it wasn’t a very good start, but I made birdie-birdie on six and seven and played really well on the back nine,” said Lagergren.
“I think I only missed one green today so the ball striking was really good.”
After gaining the 12th card at the 2011 Final Stage last December, Lagergren made an excellent start to his first term in the top tier of European golf, making seven cuts from his first seven starts – capped off by a tied fourth finish at the Madeira Islands Open and a sixth place at the Nordea Masters in his homeland – before a loss of form saw the Stockholmer miss nine cuts from his remaining ten starts on The European Tour to eventually end the year 140th in The Race to Dubai.
“I played really well the first half of the year and not very well the second but it is so tight up there,” reflected Lagergren. “I missed a lot of cuts this year by just one or two shots so it could have also been a really good second half of the year as well, but I didn’t manage to quite get there.
“At the end of the day I am here now so I’m just enjoying playing these fantastic courses we are playing and taking it one shot at a time.”
Hailing from two hours north of Lagergren in Gothenburg, Floren completed a matching 66 on the Tour Course on Sunday despite feeling his game was not at its best.
The 28 year old kick-started his round on the third after hitting his approach to two inches at the par four, before further birdies at the eighth, tenth and 13th were only tempered by a bogey at the 17th which was immediately negated by a birdie at the closing par five 18th after an excellent up-and-down from the greenside bunker.
“I kept the ball in play, hit a few close, putted okay and managed to take advantage of one of the par fives, but in general it wasn’t that great,” said Floren.
“I need to do some work on range today. I didn’t hit the ball as well today as I did yesterday. I hit the irons okay but the driver especially didn’t feel that good.
“But importantly I didn’t make any bad misses which is the main thing for getting away with it.”
Floren, who along with Lagergren is part of a five-man group tied for seventh place, highlighted the need for a change in mentality following a difficult season.
“I just stayed patient,” he said. “All year I’ve been really bad at accepting bad shots. I’ve wanted everything to be really good. But now I just accept them.
“Earlier in the year even if I hit shots where I wanted to but without putting a good strike on it I would be disappointed and you can’t play that way. It’s more accepting everything and taking the next shot, finding it and hitting it again.
“And I’ll try to just play the same the next four rounds. I wouldn’t call myself a Q-School veteran but I’ve been here three times before so I know a lot can still happen. It’s a full tournament of golf left so you know what can happen there. So I’ll try to stay patient, not practise too much and just try to conserve energy.”
Lundberg, the third Swede in the top ten in Girona, followed up his first round heroics with a second consecutive 68, this time on the Tour Course, on Sunday to get within one of overnight leader Estanislao Goya after the Argentinian completed a solid one under par 71 to remain on pole with 72 holes remaining.