French rookie Gregory Havret took the lead in a European Tour event for the first time on a day when his compatriots filled three of the top five places at the halfway stage of the Atlanet Italian Open.
Havret needed just 66 strokes to negotiate his way around the glorious Is Molas course in Sardinia to move to 13 under par 131 with Jean Van de Velde a shot behind following a 65 alongside Mark Roe of England. Germany’s Sven Strüver is two shots further back with another Frenchman, Christian Cevaer, hot on his heels in the group on nine under par.
“I don’t think there has ever been two Frenchmen at the top,” said Van de Velde. “It shows we can compete and can play at the highest level. It is a sign that we have a lot of golfers coming through. I think in five or ten years we will have a lot more.”
Havret has enjoyed a consistent first year on Tour since graduating from the Qualifying School last November, the highlight being his fifth place finish in front of his home crowd in the Novotel Perrier Open de France. By the end of June he had achieved his first target of securing his Tour card and now he has his sights on following in the footsteps of Thomas Levet by becoming the second Frenchman to win on The 2001 European Tour International Schedule.
“It was a good round,” said the three time French Amateur Champion. “I made a bogey on the second hole which wasn’t the best of starts. But holed two good birdie putts on the 13th and 14th both of 20 feet which got me going.”
Five more birdies followed, including one on the eighth when he holed from 40 feet to take him to the head of the field.
Van de Velde moved into contention with a burst of three birdies and an eagle in his last five holes to lie just one shot off the pace.
Van de Velde has flown the French flag for 13 years on Tour, becoming the first player from his country to play in the Ryder Cup when he made his debut in the 1999 Matches at The Country Club, Brookline. But a month ago he was in danger of losing his card on the European Tour after two seasons on the US Tour until his runner-up finish in the Cannes Open lifted him into the top 115 and he now has a second European Tour title in his sights.
“It was a great finish today. Around here you have to be careful and if you can put on a strong finish that is a bonus. There are a couple of par fives which you can take advantage of. I was lucky on 16 – hit a drive which just caught the rough by an inch and had a flier of a lie. I thought if I miss on the bank on the right it is not a big drama. You must avoid the left, so I pushed it right and from there chipped it in from 15 yards for an eagle.
“I have been playing well even though I have missed a couple of cuts and it is just a matter of making the most of the chances. Making the most of the par fives and keeping the ball in play.
“Gregory played very well today and yesterday. Mark Roe played well and I am playing well but there are a lot of guys behind. I will try to play my game and see what I can get out of it.”
Roe, the joint first round leader, had a round which he later describer as a “comedy of errors”. After a solid front nine Roe proceeded to match birdie for bogey over the back nine, only spoiling his card with a par on last hole to complete an eventful round of 69.
Three penalty shots, after finding the water hazard on the 13th and driving out of bounds on the 16th, and a three putt only added to one of the strangest rounds he has played in 17 years on Tour.
“I can only say I had a really good chance to go further ahead. But overall I’m delighted because my temperament is good at the moment. I wasn’t rattled by the out of bounds, wasn’t rattled by the hazard. Normally I would throw the caddie and the bag in the pond! Now I am nice and relaxed about it. I’m pleased. If I can shoot well over the weekend. Shoot a couple of 68’s and get to 20 under I might have a chance of winning. That is what I will look at.”
Roe is currently lying 131st in the Volvo Of Merit and needs a good week to secure his playing rights for another season. Christian Cevaer, currently lying in 115th place, did his chances of keeping his card no harm with a second round 66 to lie just four shots off the lead but some big names now face the tough examination of Qualifying School if they are to return to The European Tour next season.
Tournament winners Peter Mitchell, Van Phillips, Russell Claydon and former Amateur champion Graeme Storm were among those players who missed the cut, which fell on two under par, in what was their last chance to climb into the top 115 in the Volvo Order of Merit.