Raphaël Jacquelin continues to set the pace in the Volvo China Open after a four under par 67 at Shanghai Silport Golf Club left the Frenchman two clear of Australian Adam Blyth at the halfway stage.
Overnight leader Jacquelin, brimming with confidence after his runner-up finish in Estoril a fortnight ago, took full advantage of the early calm as he forged clear with three birdies in his first three holes and another two holes later.
A stunning five iron into the wind to 20 feet on the 17th help set up a fifth birdie of his front nine as he raced to the turn in 31.
Another birdie followed at the fifth, after he pitched from the left rough to 15 feet, and at that stage he looked to be driving away with the title. But as the wind intensified he slipped up coming home, dropping two shots in his last three holes to finish on seven under par 135.
“When we started at 7.10 this morning it was dead calm and I was lucky to make three birdies in a row to start with,” said Jacquelin, winner of the 2005 Open de Madrid. “I tried to make all the opportunities early on and tried to save pars like every day. Like yesterday I made two bogeys at the end but that is the game, especially on this course in these conditions.
“I am confident with my game at the moment and know I am going to make some bogeys but have to make sure I make more birdies than bogeys.”
For most of the day Jacquelin was sitting pretty three clear of the field until the last group came off the course with Blyth matching his 67 to life just two back on five under par in the event co-sanctioned by The European Tour, Asian Tour and China Golf Association.
“Now, I want to enjoy the ride over the weekend,” said Blyth. “It’s a nice position to be in so I hope to have fun and stay positive, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Three birdies in his last five holes lifted the 25 year old from Brisbane into outright second place, a shot ahead of Argentina’s Andrew Romero and Australian Scott Hend, who also posted 67s to move to four under par.
Romero, playing his second season on The European Tour after graduating from the 2005 Challenge Tour, made his score with six birdies and two dropped shots. The 25 year old has a proven track record having followed his runners-up finish in The Barclays Scottish Open with an eighth place in his Open Championship debut but has been battling flu since he arrived in China.
Long-hitter Hend, who played on the US PGA Tour in 2004 and 2005, was another to shoot 67, helped in no short measure by an eagle three at the 18th. The Australian cracked a drive up the middle before firing a two iron 225 yards to two feet for an eagle.
He followed that with a birdie on the first, unquestionably the hardest hole on the course that yielded on 11 birdies all day, after hitting a nine iron to within inches of the cup.
Thai-based Scot Simon Yates returned the low score of the week, a five under par 66, which took him into fifth place on three under par, ahead of a trio that includes two European Tour Champions.
Markus Brier of Austria and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell have all tasted victory before and are poised to mount a weekend challenge along with Irishman Damien McGrane from the two under par mark.
“This is a fantastic event and the golf course is in brilliant shape,” commented McDowell. “It is nice to be in the mix. It was tough seeing the guys burning it up this morning as I felt I couldn’t get things going out there but hung in well. Birdied the eighth, my 17th hole to get to two under so reasonably content and I feel I have a lot more in the tank this weekend. I haven’t played quite to my expectations yet but hopefully I am saving that for the weekend.”
Another impressive performance came from 18 year old local amateur Han Ren, who became the first qualifier to make the cut in China’s national Open since the event became co-sanctioned. Rounds of 74 and 72 ensured the teenager qualified for the weekend with the cut falling at five over par.