Warren Bennett and Daren Lee were locked together at the top of the leaderboard on six under par midway through the second round of the Novotel Perrier Open de France when the Sangliers course at Lyon Golf club finally succumbed to heavy rainfall and play was suspended for the day.
The pair hold a one shot lead over a group that includes two more Englishmen, Roger Winchester and Paul Eales, and South African Desvonde Botes, all of whom were safely in the clubhouse, along with Italian Costantina Rocca, who had played only seven holes.
With consistent rain throughout the day the waterlogged fairways were eventually deemed unplayable and play was suspended for the day at 5.20 pm with half the field still to complete their second round. The 75 players will return to the course at 8am on Saturday to resume play.
Overnight leader Lee remained at the top of the leaderboard after responding to a dropped shot on the fifth with a birdie on the sixth. He had completed ten holes when play was brought to a halt. Bennett, the 1999 Scottish PGA Champion, joined him at the top when he hit back from a double bogey on the first with a brace of birdies from the second and a third birdie of the day on the seventh before he too sought the sanctuary of the clubhouse.
Lee said: “I’m delighted to still be leading. It was really wet out there, almost unplayable. It felt like you were hitting out of water and very difficult to control. But the greens were holding up brilliantly.”
Botes, winner of the Qualifying School Finals in southern Spain last November, shrugged off a bad back which forced him to take a five week break after the Qatar Masters to post a two under par 68 to take him into a share of the clubhouse lead.
Botes, the youngest winner of the South African Amateur Championship, picked up three birdies with just the one dropped shot. With the first re-rank of the season taking place at the conclusion of this tournament, Botes is keen to post a good result to move back towards the top of Category 11.
“It was tough out there,” he said. “I hit the ball very nicely and putted well but there is no run on the fairways. The greens though are unbelievable. I’m very much looking forward to the weekend. I’m 11th in the re-rank at the moment and am looking to get in the top five at least.”
Eales put his turn in fortunes down to some good work on his short game and mental approach with Kitrina Douglas, a former professional on the ladies circuit. Eales won the Open de Extramadura in 1994 but has struggled over the past three years, leaving it until the last event of the season last year to secure his Tour card for a ninth successive season. But having teamed up with Douglas, Eales is again excited about his golf and in the thick of things.
“Apart from a week at the Volvo PGA Championship where I finished third a couple of years ago it has all been hard work and not what I expect from myself,” he said. “Hopefully we have ridden that storm now. I’m working with Kitrina hopefully I have got that desire back.
“Last year was a bit of a shock. I had never gone as close to the wire at losing playing privileges as I did last October or November. That was a bit of a wake up call.
“This is more like it. I’m looking forward to a lie in tomorrow. It is what it is all about. I’m competing and it has been a while since I’ve had those butterflies at the weekend and been at the sharp end. That’s what I work hard for.”
Former English Amateur Champion Winchester is another player who has struggled to find his form, describing the way he has hit the ball this year as “the worst in my life”. But after making a few swing changes over the past couple of weeks by moving his arms away from the body, he has found something that has been missing all season and is once again enjoying his golf.
“This year playing has been no fun,” he said. “When you stand on the tee and have no idea where it is going it is not much fun. . Now I’m feeling like I can get it on the map.
“I’m delighted with my position so far. It is all improvement and moving forward. I’ve not played that much but when I have played it has been shocking. Now I hope things are moving in the right direction.”
Rocca, whose maiden European Tour victory was achieved on the other course at Lyon Golf Club in 1993, joined the three players on five under par with a hat-trick of birdies from the third but was only able to complete seven holes before play was suspended.