German Kariem Baraka and Sweden’s Henrik Nystrom share the BMW Russian Open lead at Le Meridien Moscow Country Club after respective second rounds of 71 and 66 amounted to both players posting halfway totals of ten under par 134 and taking a one shot lead from Austria’s Markus Brier and Scotsman Euan Little.
Baraka – who held the first round lead after a sensational opening 63 – saw his luck change during round two but will heed the advice of a famous relative going into the weekend battle for the BMW Russian Open title.
That relative just happens to be his uncle Bernhard, Bernhard Langer that is – the current European Ryder Cup Captain, whose words of wisdom have been taken on board by his 26 year old nephew.
“I have actually spoken to Bernhard about being in this position before and he told me not to look at the leaderboard because anything that is on the leaderboard puts you under pressure,” said Baraka.
“If you look up and see that you are two shots behind then you start to think that you have to start making birdies, and then if you look up and se that you are leading by five shots then you will probably start to be more defensive.
“I think that’s the way that Bernhard does it. Well, I don’t think that he would tell me that if he didn’t believe in it himself. But what does he know? He’s only won about 70 times in his career with some Majors and Ryder Cups in there as well!
“I said yesterday that I hit a couple of bad drives and today I must have hit about five or six bad drives. I also had a few too many putts that just missed the hole today, which you could call unlucky but at the same time you could say that I got lucky yesterday with a few of the putts that went in.”
For Nystrom, a ten under par halfway total signals a return to the form that saw him tie for second place at the 2003 Omega Hong Kong Open. The 34 year old Swede has recaptured his game on the European Challenge Tour and is delighted to be back in contention at this dual ranking event.
He began his second round in some style, going to the turn in five under 31 and then picking up another birdie on the tenth before his putter went from red hot to ice cold, and, as a result, his birdie run froze.
“It was a little strange today because I putted so well on the front nine and holed a few long putts and then the back nine was the opposite where I started to hit the ball very close but did not hole anything. That was a little bit infuriaiting, but overall it was a good day. I had no trouble out there and just played solid golf all day and I am in a very good position for the weekend.
“It feels great to be back in contention at an event like this again because you get all the feelings coming back, some excitement, some nerves and that always makes you feel great.”
Brier has a great record at the BMW Russian Open, having finished third at the inaugural event in 1996 and then coming fifth in 1999 – the same year he won his European Tour Card through the Challenge Tour Rankings.
The Austrian carded a second round 66 which included four pars at Le Meridien Moscow Country Club’s four par fives, which he himself found “a little bit strange”.
“But I didn’t try to reach the 15th in two, at the 17th I went into the bunker and didn’t get up and down and then it was the same again at the second but I always had birdie chances on each of the four par fives – I just didn’t make any of the putts.
“I have been playing well over the last two days. In fact I have always played well here. I think I hit 16 greens in regulation yesterday and then 15 today so that makes it easier – when you have so many birdie putts you know that some of them will drop.”
If Brier’s 16 greens in regulation was impressive, then Little’s 18 was exemplary. The 27 year old is flourishing under the tutelage of Bob Torrance and his new sports psychologist Jamil Qureshi, who has eliminated any golfing doubts in Little’s mind and brought enjoyment back to the game for the Scot.
He said: “I think that that is the first time that I have ever hit 18 greens in regulation on Tour. I could be striking the ball better if I am being totally honest with myself, but it’s still working away and I am not expecting to hit bad shots. If I do then I am accepting it and getting on with it. My sports psychologist – Jamil Qureshi – phoned me twice last night and he kept telling me not to worry and just go out there and enjoy it.
“Also, my bad shots are getting better if that sounds right, and I’m not putting myself in too much trouble. I am enjoying my golf which is a massive thing and that is all down to Jamil. Two weeks ago I would have stood over a four foot putt and been anxious about missing it, but now I am just so much more relaxed and probably looking at the bigger picture. I’m just really pleased over all. I can’t think of anywhere today where I got myself in trouble – that’s what happens when you hit 18 greens.”
The top four players are being hotly pursued by six players on eight under par, with a further 16 players within five shots of Baraka and Nystrom. Seventy players made the halfway cut of two under par.