Like a grandmaster plotting his way around a chessboard, Peter Hanson made the right moves as he weaved his way round the testing San Roque Club to edge one clear of fellow Swede Peter Gustafsson at the halfway stage of the Jazztel Open de España en Andalucia.
A curling, downhill 35 foot putt on the last for birdie concluded a superb four under par 68 for Hanson to take him to six under par 138 and one ahead of his good friend Gustafsson, who posted a 69.
After none of the 156 field broke 70 in the first round, the first time that has happened since the 2003 Diageo Championship at Gleneagles, scoring was marginally better with seven players shooting in 60s. Hanson’s 68 was matched by Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, who climbed into a share of third place alongside Ireland’s Peter Lawrie on three under par 141, Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who lies a further shot back, and England’s David Griffiths.
A stiff, gusting wind continued to make conditions testing but Hanson calmly negotiated the tight San Roque course, his one dropped shot more than compensated by three birdies and an eagle on the par five ninth hole, where he holed from 20 feet.
“It was like a game of chess,” said Hanson, who finished fourth in the Volvo Masters Andalucia last October at nearby Valderrama. “You try to make as few mistakes as possible. It is probably not that much fun to watch as you end up with a lot of long putts and two putting.”
Both Hanson and Gustafsson spend much of the winter practising in this area, Hanson travelling down for a few weeks while Gustafsson lives at Puerto Banus. Often it is just the two of them pounding balls at Los Naranjos in Marbella and the practice seems to be paying off.
Gustafsson showed some remarkable scoring on his way to a three under par 69 to lead the chase on Hanson, birdieing all four par threes. Having birdied the last two in the first round he has now had six consecutive twos on the short holes. His wasn’t the only player to get the statisticians thumbing through the record books as England’s Mark Foster made 28 successive pars, all 18 in the first round and first ten in the second, before breaking his sequence with a birdie.
Having won the Qualifying School over the San Roque Course last November, Gustafsson is growing in confidence with each passing day, but still harbours some superstitions and finds himself eating in the same restaurant each night.
“It went well in November so why change it,” he says. “It is all positive thinking.”
The last player to win a European Tour title the season after earning his Tour card by winning the Qualifying School was Spain’s José Maria Olazábal in 1986 so Gustafsson has a tough act to follow if he is to go on and lift the title.
Another player who is relishing his return to San Roque having got his card through the Tour School is Bourdy, who will be aiming to become the second successive French champion of the Jazztel Open de España by following in the footsteps of Christian Cevaer. At three under par 141 he is well placed to mount a challenge over the weekend.
“Last season was a great year for French players,” said the 22 year old. “Every week there seemed to be a French player in the top ten and there were four winners. Now I have my card I feel I can be up there challenging as well.”
Lawrie, the 2003 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, chipped and putted on the final hole, the ninth on the course, for a two under par 70 to lie alongside Bourdy on three under par.
“I have been playing well for a while,” said Lawrie. “I think I was just waiting for a difficult golf course like this so everyone else comes back to me. I controlled the ball well and holed a few putts so I’m happy enough.”
Only 13 players finished under par with the cut falling at four over par.