South African Trevor Immelman produced the best round of his career to open up a four shot lead at the halfway stage of the Novotel Perrier Open de France at Le Golf National.
Immelman carded a flawless eight under par 64, just one shot outside the course record, to move to 12 under par 132 and four clear of the defending champion Jose Maria Olazabal, local favourite Jean-Francois Remesy and Eduardo Romero.
The 22 year old, who graduated from the Challenge Tour in 2000, has shot 65 on three previous occasions but went one better today with some sensational golf.
The best of his eight birdies came at the testing 15th hole. Faced with a daunting 171 yard approach to the island green, Immelman hit the perfect fade with a seven iron which came to rest only an inch from the hole.
“I would rank that as the best shot I have hit in my career so far,” he said. “It was a knock down fade seven iron. I naturally draw the ball so it was a shot that is not the easiest for me to play so when I pulled it off it was something special. The 15th is surrounded by water and the pin is cut tight. You are standing over it and all you see is water. To pull that shot off gave me a lot of confidence.”
Immelman recently linked up with coach Claude Harmon, son of Tiger Woods’s coach Butch Harmon, and they immediately picked up on the fact he was overswinging. A bit of work over the last couple of weeks has brought the consistency he has been lacking back into his game and it all came together at Le Golf National.
After a promising amateur career and finishing 88th in the Volvo Order of Merit last season, he feels he now is ready to make a move to start achieving the sort of results his friends and fellow players of around the same age have enjoyed already.
“To some people and maybe to myself sometimes it can be a little disappointing because you have Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Nick Dougherty playing well and Charlie Howell and all the guys in the States, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, the list goes on forever, not forgetting Sergio (Garcia) who is top five in the world.
“Over the span of my career those are the guys I am going to be playing against over the next ten or 15 years. There’s Reteif (Goosen), Ernie (Els) and Tiger (Woods) who are also young but those are the sort of guys I look at.
“The biggest thing Ernie has taught me is he keeps telling me to run my own race. You can look at those guys and think they are doing well but you have to go at your own pace as we have seen with Retief. But it’s nice to get going this week.”
Olazabal fired a five under par 67 as he closed the gap on Immelman at the top of the leaderboard. Twelve months ago he won the title at Lyon GC and he is showing no intention of relinquishing his crown without a fight.
The Spaniard, currently third in the Volvo Order of Merit, fired seven birdies and two bogeys to lie just four shots off the pace heading into the weekend.
“I played much better today,” he said. “Hit the ball better off the tee, hit more fairways. Overall a much better round. It was very important to birdie the 13th after I bogeyed the 12th. That birdie helped me keep the round going. I wish I was a little closer to the leader but he must have played very well today. I think we will need a couple of good rounds over the weekend.”
Remesy delighted the home fans with a three under par 69 to stay among the leading players. Starting at the tenth the Frenchman picked up five birdies to get to nine under par but bogeyed his final hole allow Immelman the cushion of an extra shot.
“It was really cold when we started and I made a bogey at the 12th after a really bad putt,” said the 1999 Estoril Open champion. “I started to play better from the third shot on the 14th.”
Three birdies in succession from the 17th catapulted Remesy up the leaderboard and two more followed on the third and seventh holes. On his last his second shot with a three wood found the rough and from there he was unable to save par.
“On this course, anything can happen,” he added. “I’m only four shots behind Immelman which is not too far.”
Romero had moved into outright second with a birdie on the 17th, his seventh birdie of the round, but just as he was teeing off on the last the heavens opened. The result was a duck hook into the water hazard 100 yards in front of the tee. By the time he had taken a penalty drop and played his third shot to the right side of the fairway the torrential rain had flooded the course and play was suspended.
One hour and 25 minutes later, at 7.25pm, play resumed and Romero was able to complete the hole, finishing with a bogey six for a round of 66, six under par, to leave him in joint second.
“I was teeing off on the 18th just when the rain came,” said the Argentine. “But I hit a bad shot. I played very well today and yesterday as well. I missed a lot of birdie putts yesterday and today holed out well. I’m very happy except for the 18th hole, but that is golf.
“When the rain hit, my hands were wet and when I hit it … just a terrible shot. Only went 100 yards into the water. Hooked straight left. Terrible. But I made a good six. Anyway I played well and there are two more days to go.”