England’s Stuart Little birdied three of the last four holes to share the lead with South African Michael Kirk going into the weekend of the Abama Open de Canarias in Tenerife.
Little, enjoying the best year of his career, shot a four under par 67 round the spectacular Abama course to move to seven under par 135, a total matched by Kirk after his round of 66, and one stroke clear of another South African Titch Moore and New Zealand’s Stephen Scahill.
After three unsuccessful bids to keep his card, Little left the Tour after the 1994 season but re-emerged in 2000, only to regain but lose his card five more times.
For the 2005 season, though, the 38 year old left-hander has enjoyed two top ten finishes, including equalling his career best sixth, and five top 20s. He is now more concerned with moving up from his current position of 74th - 44 places higher than he has ever finished before on The European Tour Order of Merit - to 60th to make his debut in the Volvo Masters than worrying about his card.
"Golfers can improve at different ages and this is obviously my age," said Little.
"But if someone had told me in August 1999 I'd be playing European Tour golf again I'd have laughed at them."
Little hinted how the late Mark McCormack, head of the International Management Group (IMG), had helped him restart his career. He said: "It's a long story that I'd rather not go into but, effectively, I won a couple of their (IMG) tournaments and something must have impressed Mark."
With the top 20 players from the Challenge Tour Rankings earning promotion to The European Tour at the end of the season, Kirk needs to make up some ground if he is to fulfil his ambition of playing on The European Tour. He currently lies 22nd with just this week and the San Domenico Challenge Tour Grand Final remaining.
The winner of the 2004 Stanbic Zambia Open has yet to make the breakthrough onto The European Tour but with the Abama Open de Canarias counting for both the Challenge Tour Rankings and The European Tour Order of Merit, he is making a bold bid for his card.
Chasing the leaders, Moore shot a 68 and believes a third place in Tenerife will seal his card. Having finished seventh in last week’s dunhill links championship, Moore is playing with plenty of confidence as he seeks to climb from 123rd on the Order of Merit into the top 115.
Scahill, who fired a 67, is sure he will have to win, having missed the cut in 14 of his last 17 events. He currently lies 141st as the season enters the final stretch.
“I played well and hit the fairway on almost every hole, so I didn't make it very difficult,” said the New Zealander. “I putted well, holing every putt under ten feet. This season I have been playing all right but not getting good scores, today it was the first time I played well and got a good score.”
The English trio of Peter Baker, John Bickerton and Mark Roe are a further stroke back on five under par.