Trio lead tightly bunched field

3/25/2011 5:57:30 PM
Rikard Karlberg  (Getty Images)
Rikard Karlberg (Getty Images)

More than 20 players are separated by only four strokes at the halfway stage of the Open de Andalucía de Golf by Turkish Airlines – with Jeppe Huldahl, Rikard Karlberg and Maarten Lafeber leading the way.

Swede Karlberg, who does not even have a European Tour card and is playing on a sponsor’s invite, followed up his opening 65 with a 67 and looked like leading on his own when he pitched to eight feet on the par five 14th for birdie only to hand the shot back at the 16th.

Karlberg's third place in the Barclays Singapore Open last November would normally have earned him a card for this season.

But because he had joined The Challenge Tour and did not play the required seven events he did not qualify for inclusion on The Race to Dubai and so was left seeking invitations.

The 24 year old is a two-time Asian Tour winner and was their rookie of the year last season.

"Today I missed some putts on the back nine, but I am pretty satisfied," said Karlberg. "The key of my score was hitting lots of fairways.

"I like this course. It reminds me of my home course, very flat, with narrow fairways and small greens. You need to be very straight off the tee.”

Former Celtic Manor Wales Open champion Huldahl had set the mark with a second successive 66 while Lafeber, whose only European Tour win came in the 2003 Dutch Open, shot 65.

Lafeber is the most experienced of the trio out in front, but the 36 year old has only one title in nearly 340 appearances on The European Tour.

“It was a solid round. To be honest, my long game was not good but I did very well around the greens,” he said.

“I putted really badly the first four or five weeks of the season, so I went to the US to see my coach, and we are working on it.

“I like this course. I like courses where you have to make a good choice off the tee. I think this is a challenging course.”

Huldahl slipped out of the top 150 on last season’s Race to Dubai, but has made improvements to his game in order to compete more regularly.

“I had two very solid first rounds,” said Huldahl.

“I changed my swing last year. I needed to improve my technique in order to become a more stable player, and that took its time.

"Today I played very good off the tee, and when I hit bad shots, I missed on the safe side. There’s still a long way to go.”

Scotland's 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie is one behind after a six foot birdie at the last, along with England's Jamie Elson and five-time Japanese Tour winner Tetsuji Hiratsuka, another of the invited players.

“The key of my score has been around the green,” said Hiratsuka, whose regular caddie is not travelling with him this week after his house was destroyed in the recent earthquake.

“I chipped and putted extremely well and hit some great short irons.”

Lawrie, round in 67, will sense a big chance to end nearly nine years without a win, while at three under after posting the same score, England's 50 year old Barry Lane is still in the hunt to become the oldest winner in European Tour history.