England’s John Bickerton takes a one stroke lead into the weekend of the Open de France ALSTOM after a one under par 70 at Le Golf National kept him one clear of Scotland’s Gary Orr.
US Open Champion Michael Campbell is a shot further back alongside Welsh World Cup winner Bradley Dredge, Spain’s José Manuel Lara and Swede Joakim Backstrom.
Bickerton, however, continues to set the pace after following is first round of 63 with a 70 to lie on 133, nine under par, in his bid for a second European Tour title following his long-awaited maiden success in the Abama Open de Canarias last year.
In April, Bickerton lost out in a play-off for the Open de España en Andalucia but now he is in pole position to capture the oldest of the continental Opens, which this year celebrates its centenary.
After holing everything in the first round, Bickerton struggled to get the pace of the greens in the afternoon and three putted the first. But he hit back with birdies on the next two to settle the ship and maintained his position throughout another sunkissed day in Versailles.
“Yesterday they were rolling in nicely and today I was leaving a lot short on line,” admitted Bickerton. “It is not a bad score at the end of the day and still up there.”
With a €4 million prize fund, there is much at stake over the weekend but Bickerton was keen not to get too far ahead of himself.
“You still have to go out and play and at the end of the day if you focus on what you are doing and don’t get ahead of yourself that is the only way to do it. I felt nervous out there but stayed focused.”
Orr goes into the weekend leading the chase having saved his par on the last with a brave up and down from sand to complete a flawless seven under par 64 to move to eight under par 134.
Two years ago Orr was facing an uncertain future after losing his card but took stock of the situation and is almost back to a level where he was in 2000 when he won two tournaments.
“Losing my card made me sit back and look at what I was doing,” said the 35 year old. “In a situation like that you have to. There is no option. It is either do that or go and do something else. It is a straight forward decision. I wasn’t doing anything dramatically wrong. I just looked at my approach and changed the way I practised and what I worked on. I tried less technical thoughts and working on basics and simple stuff. Basically to try and simplify my game a little bit.”
The change of focus paid off as last year he regained his card in style with three top tens in his first four starts. His progress has continued this year with three top tens, including a tie for third place in the Open de España en Andalucia and joint sixth in the BMW Championship, the Players’ Flagship.
“Rounds like today give you confidence,” said Orr. “It has been coming. Even last year it was big improvement and this year has been a continuation on that, so if I can keep doing the right things hopefully I can get my game back to that level.”
Dredge is another player who has found some improvement of late as he comes into form as just the right time. With a run of some of Europe’s biggest events ahead, Dredge is beginning to hit his stride.
“I have started hitting the ball much better the last four events and it is just a case of getting the short game better. I have been working with Claude Harmon but I just got off to a slow start this year. I have not been up there an awful lot. But a big event like this you want to be right up there. This is the time of year you want to play well and you gear up to.”
Tied with Dredge on eight under par is Lara after a round of 68, Backstrom *69) and Campbell, who found water on the last in dropping a shot. His one under par 70, however, keeps him well in contention.
“It was an error on the last hole but apart from that once again very pleasing and it was good to get myself in a position to hopefully go on and win at the weekend,” said Campbell, now playing free of the pressures of being the US Open champion. “That was my goal, to get myself in a situation where I can win.”