Robert Karlsson, at 6ft 5in, is officially the tallest player on The European Tour. After the second round of the Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club the blond-turned-ginger Swede gazed down on the rest of the field in a golfing, as well as physical, sense as he added a second round of 70 to his opening 63 to lead by two shots going into the weekend.
Karlsson, sporting a new hair colour this season in a light-hearted attempt to change his luck after a modest 2000 campaign, fired a two round total of 133, 11 under par, to move ahead of Frenchman Olivier Edmond and Elliot Boult of New Zealand.
Edmond, who missed the majority of the 1999 season as he fought a successful battle againt cancer, added a second round of 70 to his opening 65 as the stiff winds which are commonplace at Doha made scoring conditions more difficult.
Boult, who secured his card through the Qualifying School last year, joined Edmond on 135, nine under par, with a round of 67 to follow his initial effort of 68. They are pursued by three players on eight under – Dean Robertson of Scotland, Argentina’s Angel Cabrera and Austrian Markus Brier.
Karlsson, who shares the new course record with Mark Pilkington of Wales, admitted to a problem with his driving as he steered his way round the course in 70. Pilkington, meanwhile, failed to negotiate his route and slipped to a round of 79.
The Swede, winner of the BMW International Open and the Belgacom Open on The European Tour, believes his game to be in sound condition going into the last two days. He said: “I think it’s probably pretty similar to when I won the Belgacom. I’m happy with my game but I am going to be a bit more careful over some of the tee shots if there is a wind blowing.
“I’m actually looking forward to going out tomorrow and getting more experience of leading from the front. I am usually pretty good under pressure and whatever the outcome I am going to take away something positive.”
Edmond, a 31 year old Parisian, still requires three monthly check-ups, and will continue to do so for a further three years – following his comeback from cancer. As he explained, he is thrilled just to be back in rude health after the debilitating illness.
“It took a year out of my career and I was so happy to come back last year. I couldn’t play the whole season as I was so tired, but I practised a lot over the winter and I think everything is clear now.”
He added: “I think the course is just fantastic and in great condition. When you hit a good shot you are in place to do well. When you miss it you get the punishment you deserve.”
Although he finished second in his native France in 1998, Edmond rates last year’s seventh place finish in the Volvo PGA Championship as the high spot of his career to date. The 60,650 euro (£36,525) he won helped secure his card for 2001 following his medical exemption for the 2000 season.
Boult carded a commendable 67 in the swirling afternoon ‘Shamal’ to join Edmond on joint second place. His goal is quite simple – to retain the card he secured at the Qualifying School last November.
With six birdies in his 67, the man from Blenheim in New Zealand, climbed the leaderboard steadily and admitted that the winter break he took, rather than try to pre-qualify for Australasian Tour events, was a major break.
“It’s a long season in Europe” he pointed out. “I want to keep my card so that break was probably a good thing for me to re-charge my batteries and get ready for the year ahead. I want a good re-rank in May to help me get enough starts to keep my card.”
The intrusion of Robertson among the leaders hardly produced a shock of seismic proportions. The Scots have an outstanding record at Doha with Andrew Coltart winning the inaugural tournament in 1998 and Paul Lawrie succeeding him 12 months later.
“If it blows over the weekend that will be good. In fact, I think it might be why the Scots have done well here in the past. When it’s calm the course is defenceless, but it’s a different story when the wind blows.”
Enjoying a renaissance, at the age of 48, is Eamonn Darcy. The Irishman played superbly last week to tie for 12th in the Dubai Desert Classic and moved into contention in Qatar with rounds of 69 and 68 for a 137 total.
That came as much as a surprise to Darcy after a four month break in which he got married, did some horse riding and didn’t touch a golf club. He said: “I got married in December. My wife’s name is Suzanne. It’s given me a new lease of life and I’m very happy.
“I am looking forward to the weekend now – I’ll give it a lash!”