Australian Brett Rumford maintained his position at the top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage of the Aa St Omer Open, birdieing the last for a 36 hole total of eight under par, one stroke clear of Spain’s Alvaro Salto.
Rumford produced none of the fireworks of the opening round, where he broke the St Omer course record with a scintillating 64, as he struggled to find the same touch on the greens but managed to dig deep and claw his way back from two early bogeys to post a one under par 70 in the dual ranking tournament.
Starting at the tenth his two stroke overnight lead soon disappeared. First he misjudged his approach to his opening hole, the tenth, and was unable to get up and down to save par and then two holes later three putted from 15 feet to drop a second shot. But the 25 year old from Perth steadied the ship with five pars before rolling in an 18 foot birdie putt across the 18th green to reach the turn in 36. A second birdie followed immediately at the first, holing from 12 feet but he had to wait until his final hole before he picked up his third birdie of the day, two putting from 20 feet on the par five ninth.
"It was a different day,” said Rumford. “The putter wasn’t hot today. The greens were tricky and I had a lot of good putts which didn’t drop. I played well and could have scored better but overall I’m quite pleased.”
Rumford lies one clear of Salto, a former amateur team-mate of Sergio Garcia. Salto has successfully negotiated the European Tour Qualifying School the last two season’s but has yet to make his mark on The European Tour. However, an 80 foot birdie putt on the eighth did wonders for his confidence and he romped home in 31 with the help of four birdies for a four under par 67 to move to seven under par 135.
“I’ve been playing well and finally put a score together,” said Salto, whose best finish this season is 52nd in the Qatar Masters. “I put a lot of pressure on myself last year and couldn’t get a result. This year I am trying to do things a little different and enjoy the courses a little more. I am a lot happier and hope to carry on like this for the weekend.”
Welshman Garry Houston is two shots further back on five under par after a two under par 69 while former Ryder Cup player Paul Broadhurst remains very much in the hunt in the group on four under par after a second successive 69.
Broadhurst, winner of four European Tour titles, is looking to rekindle his career after a wrist injury in 2000 saw him slip down the Volvo Order of Merit. He played 2001 on a medical exemption but missed out on his card at the Qualifying School that year. He made amends in 2002 when he claimed the 22nd card after a final round of 66, a round he described as “the best round of his career because of what having a Tour card means to me”.
Frenchman Sebastian Branger, Swede Peter Hanson and South African Michael Kirk complete the group on four under par, just four strokes off the lead.
With the Aa St Omer Open qualifying as a dual ranking event, where money won counts for both the Challenge Tour Rankings and the Volvo Order of Merit, there is plenty to play for with the winner earning a one year exemption.