Friday June 22 is one of the biggest National Holidays of the year in Sweden and two of its golfing luminaries – Niclas Fasth and Peter Hanson – celebrated it in fine style by taking positions one and two at the halfway stage of the BMW International Open.
Fasth took pole position, a fine second round 65 giving him a 12 under par total of 132 and a two shot lead over his fellow countryman Hanson who added a 66 to his opening 68 for a ten under par total of 134.
Both men came into the event on the back of a confidence boosting week at the US Open Championship, Fasth in particular given a lift by his best performance in a Major Championship since he finished second in the 2001 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes, finishing fourth at Oakmont Country Club.
“Obviously last week gave me a boost and a bit of confidence to know I played all right in that sort of environment,” said Fasth, who carded seven birdies in a flawless second round including five in eight holes on the back nine.
“All this week it’s been very good here but yesterday I just didn’t hole the putts that I should have because my driving and iron play gave me a lot of chances. But today, they dropped.”
In his slipstream, Hanson proved his new, aggressive style of play was working a treat.
The 29 year old Swede did well to finish tied for 30th in last week’s US Open Championship and decided, after leaving Oakmont, to let it rip in the more forgiving conditions of Golfclub München Eichenried, and has done so to impressive effect.
The winner of the 2005 Open de España en Andalucia followed an opening 68 on Thursday with an impressive 66 on Friday to move to ten under par 134 to give himself a two shot lead over England’s Nick Dougherty, another man who played all four rounds in Pennsylvania.
“Before I came here I’d been looking at that golf course (Oakmont) for seven days; I played three practice rounds and four tournament rounds and it kind of gets to your head a little bit how difficult it is,” he said.
“So when you go out playing here, you feel like the course is wide open and the greens are really receptive. You can throw the ball all the way to the pins here and it will stop – over there, you couldn’t hold anything.
“So I decided this week to be aggressive and really go for the pins. I’ve been driving the ball well and that is the key point. The rough is still quite thick here but if you keep it in the fairway, you are going to leave yourself chances.”
In total the Swede took seven of those chances in his 18 holes, birdie putts dropping in from a variety of distances ranging from 20 feet to one foot, which more than made up for his only dropped shot of the day which came at the sixth after his approach shot found the water.
Three men shared third place on nine under par 135, Frenchman Thomas Levet, Portugal’s Jose-Filipe Lima and Andres Romero of Argentina while sixth place on his own was reserved for another European who carved his own success story at Oakmont – Nick Dougherty.
The Englishman carded his second successive 68 for eight under par 136 but instead of looking backwards at the US Open Championship, he looked forward to The Open Championship at Carnoustie next month and admitted he would be "gutted" if he was not part of it. However, two more days like the last two, and he might have no need to worry.
The Liverpool golfer qualified for the US Open, led after the first day and eventually finished joint seventh five strokes behind Angel Cabrera.
But while that earned him a debut in the Masters Tournament at Augusta next April, only the winner picks up an Open exemption.
"I'm desperate to be at Carnoustie, not just because of the way I've been playing but also because I love the course," said Dougherty who continued his bid for a victory that would lift him from fourth to first in the mini Order of Merit from which two spots at Carnoustie will come after next week's Open de France ALSTOM.
What has delighted the 25 year old so far this week is that he has stayed in the hunt, despite suffering from jet-lag for the first time in his life. "I didn't sleep well on the flight back, and last week was not a regular week,” he said.
Apart from being in contention for a Major for the first time, he played with Tiger Woods for the first time on Saturday - and was exhausted afterwards. "The only time I've ever been congratulated like I have this week is when I won. It really does feel like I won a tournament, the way people have been around me.
"To come out and play two solid rounds like that is extremely pleasing. Arguably we've had the tougher half of the draw - it's been quite breezy on our side."