Englishman Benn Barham carded a two under par 69 in the second round of the Mugello Tuscany Open to set the clubhouse lead at six under par.
The 35 year old, who is in full remission after having a cancerous kidney removed last October, leads by one from Scotland’s Jamie McLeary and Italian Matteo Delpodio at Poggio dei Medici Golf Club on the outskirts of Florence, Italy. Overnight leader Benjamin Hebert, who shot a six under par 65 on day one, is among the afternoon starters.
Barham had a mixed start with two birdies and two bogeys in his opening nine holes, but picked up shots at the 15th and 18th.
“The front nine is a bit more difficult so I felt level par for nine holes was okay, and there are more chances on the back nine,” he said. So I just tried to hit fairways and greens and made a nice birdie at the 15th, a good par save on the 16th and a good steady birdie at the last. Two good rounds so far.
“I’m enjoying myself away from the golf. I love Italy and the countryside and this is a lovely part of the world. I’ve had some nice food, one of my favourite things, and I’m staying in a lovely place this week. I’ve been sleeping like a log, which I think is due to the toughness of the course. It must be at least a five-mile walk. This afternoon I think we’re going to the local motor racing track.
“I intend to just keep playing the way I am and drawing on past experiences to spur me on. It’ll be good to turn a negative situation into a positive situation.”
McLeary had a double bogey six at the second hole but bounced back with birdies at the third, fourth, seventh, eighth, tenth and 13th.
“I’ve missed a few putts this week, which isn’t really like me, but I’m happy with five under,” said the 30 year old, whose only previous Challenge Tour victory was at the 2009 Scottish Hydro Challenge. “I’ve had a couple of double bogeys, one on each day, on the first and second hole, so to be up at the top of the leaderboard after those is good.
“Last week I finished 15th (in the Allianz Challenge de France) after leading after two rounds. I’ve been having bad weekends for the last year and a half so I hope this week is going to be the turning point.
“I’ve been practising my heart out over the winter and I started working with a new coach at the end of last year. He identified that my short irons and wedges weren’t very good, and the difference in them compared to last year is unbelievable, so he’s been really good. He’s made a huge difference to my game so I’m really hoping I might get my European Tour card this season.”
The highlight of Delopdio’s three under par 68 was an eagle three at the third, which was then followed by two birdies and a bogey in consecutive holes.
The 25 year old said: “I’m playing a very simple game. I’m making many fairways and greens, just trying to be consistent. I had an eagle on the third – I hit a three wood from the rough 228 yards to about a metre from the pin.
“When you have an eagle it gives you a confidence boost and everything comes together, and it also made up for yesterday when I hit a perfect three wood and it just stopped on the top of the slope on the green. If it was half a metre more it could have been a gimme but I ended up three-putting. So today I took what I was owed from yesterday.
“My game is not perfect. You know you have to keep your concentration when you’re not playing your best. But I’m very happy to be five under and I just have to sort out a problem with my finger – it is very swollen and sore – for the weekend and I hope I can do well.”