It has been 35 years since France last celebrated a home winner of the Open de France, Jean Garaialde the last man to achieve the feat when he captured the title in 1969, but Jean-Francois Remesy put himself in the frame to end that drought with a four under par 67 to go into the weekend tied for the lead with former Masters Champion Ian Woosnam on six under par 136.
Remesy celebrated his 40th birthday earlier this month and his maturity showed around the testing examination presented by Le Golf National, with its tight fairways and knee high rough. After dropping a shot on his opening hole, the tenth, he went on to play flawless golf, picking up five birdies without another blemish on his card to post a target only Woosnam could match.
“It is just two rounds,” said the 1999 Estoril Open champion. “I am playing good, feeling good and to be up there on the leaderboard in my own country is a great feeling. Maybe I am too early leading but I prefer to be leading than 15th or 20th.”
Asked what it would mean to win the Open de France, Remesy played down the pressure and expectation that will surely come from the home crowd over the weekend.
“Every time I start on a golf course I try to play shot after shot, day after day, the best I can. In France I have maybe, unconsciously, a little more desire to do better. That’s better for me. I am 40 years old and have won a few tournaments so I know the story about the pressure.
“Now I have to continue to play my game and see what is going on. The most important thing for me is to be in contention on Sunday afternoon with nine holes to play. I am not thinking about winning at the moment. There is one more round tomorrow and another one on Sunday so I have just made half of it.”
Woosnam, playing some vintage golf, raced three strokes clear with five birdies in his opening 12 holes, including an outrageous 50 foot birdie putt on the 12th but just as he seemed to be cruising to a comfortable lead, he started “bleeding”.
Pulled seven irons on the 15th and 16th holes cost him shots, as did a pulled drive into the thick rough on the 17th. But he stemmed the flow with a solid par on the last for a second round of 69 and share of the halfway lead with Remesy.
“I’m disappointed with the finish but I would have taken joint leader at the beginning before I went out,” said Woosnam, twice a winner of the Trophee Lancome in France. “For 14 holes I played some of the best golf I have played for a long time.
“But then pulled a few coming in and started bleeding. But overall I played very well and had a lot of chances. Holed a monstrous putt on the 12th, it was outrageous. Missed a few but you miss some and you hole some. Anything better than 70 around here is a good score.”
Australian left hander, Richard Green, whose only European Tour victory to date came in the 1997 Dubai Desert Classic, maintained his challenge with a one under par 70 to lie on four under par 138 at the halfway stage. A dropped shot on the last, when he three putted from 40 feet, took nothing away from another impressive performance.
“There were no real disasters on the card,” said Green. “Unfortunately I made a bogey on the last but it was pretty tricky putt. But I’m playing well so can’t complain. I’m hitting the ball well. It was much better today, much easier but it is still tricky. You start missing some shots and you get punished. There’s no let up and as soon as you try and take too much from the rough it is goodnight. You have to take your medicine when you hit a bad one but fortunately I haven’t hit too many.”
The medicine didn’t go down at all well with South Africa’s Darren Fichardt, who extended his overnight lead to three strokes through eight holes having picked up four birdies with two dropped shots but his good work started to unravel with a double bogey on the treacherous ninth hole, comfortably the hardest hole on the course.
That mistake clearly rattled him as he then proceeded to drop another four strokes in the next five holes before regaining his composure with two birdies in the last three holes for a two over par 73 to finish on three under par 139.
Last year’s runner-up David Howell of England, compatriot John Bickerton and Australian Peter O’Malley are a further shot back on two under par.
The cut fell at seven over par 149, the highest of the year on The European Tour International Schedule.