Argentine Ricardo Gonzalez held on to his slender one stroke lead at the halfway stage of the Omega European Masters after a second round 67, four under par, took him to ten under par as he chases his maiden European Tour title.
Gonzalez, who is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Eduardo Romero to make it a second successive Argentine victory at Crans-sur-Sierre, pckied up five birdies with just the one dropped shot to lie a stroke ahead of England’s David Gilford and Gary Orr of Scotland.
Gonzalez last led at the halfway stage in the TNT Dutch Open where he eventually finished joint seventh. That was one of five top tens the 31 year old has recorded this year but his first victory continues to elude him.
The key to his round came on the 11th, his second, where he missed the green a long way left, but managed to save his par by chipping to 20 feet and holing the putt. That settled the nerves as he then proceeded to birdie the 12th, 14th and 15th to pull clear of the field. His one mistake came on the 18th, his ninth, where he missed the green on the wrong side and finished in the pond to the right of the green but the former caddie bounced back straight away with birdies on his nest two holes.
"The 11th was the most important hole,” when I holed that putt it gave me a lot of confidence and then I birdied three of the next four holes.
“I will try to play like I have the first two days over the weekend. Try not to worry about the good score but to hit the ball well and make good putts.”
Former Ryder Cup player Gilford has struggled over the past two years but showed a welcome return to form with a second round of 66, five under par, to move to within a shot of the lead. Gilford won the last of his six European Tour titles in 1994. Over the past two years he has undertaken a series of lessons which he feels have improved his technique and after putting on 18lbs after following a fitness programme, he has added an extra 30 yards to his game.
He started badly with a three putt on his second hole, the 11th on the card, but soon found his touch on the greens to roll in with six birdies in his last 13 holes.
“I’ve not putted that well and not made a lot of birdies this year,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself and I’ve been around the cut all the time, struggling. This week I got off to a great start and carried on. Played better today than yesterday. I’ve hit it close and holed out well.
“I’ve been having lessons to try to improve. I think I’ve probably gone backwards a little the last couple of years although I think I have improved my technique which hopefully will start to show.”
Also on nine under par is Orr, another player to have struggled this to find the same form he has enjoyed in the past. Only one bogeyed marred his round of 66 which included six birdies.
“That’s much more like it,” said Orr. “I putted well today. Played better yesterday. Didn’t play quite so well but putted well and shot a good score. The greens are better as they are a bit soft. The slopes are pretty severe but the actual surface is better. The rain has helped them. If they are soft they are playable.
“I haven’t played well for a long time. Haven’t been in a good position for a long time. The last time was probably Madrid when I finished second. It’s difficult to put my finger on the problem. Just haven’t been playing well. Trying to do the same things but they haven’t been working. Today I started to knock some putts in. I’m in good shape and enjoying the course. Now I can look forward to the weekend.”
New Zealand’s Stepehn Scahill is a shot further back with Denmark’s Soren Hansen and Greg Owen of England sharing fifth place on seven under par.
The best round of the day however came from Scotland’s Steven O’Hara, who shot a 64 in only his fourth round as a professional. O’Hara turned professional after helping Great Britain and Ireland to victory in the Walker Cup last month. His first European Tour event was the Scottish PGA Championship where he missed the cut but he was in no danger of that today as he rolled in seven birdies without a dropped shot to climb to joint 13th.
A total of 80 players made the cut which fell on one over par. Among the players on the cut line were Ernie Els, Seve Ballesteros and Sam Torrance.