Rising star Tommy Fleetwood enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a stellar round of 65 to surge into the lead at the midway stage of the Telenet Trophy.
The precociously talented 20 year old from Southport, England, opened up a two shot advantage over the rest of the field after reeling off seven birdies and an eagle at the fifth hole to move to six under par at Royal Waterloo Golf Club in Brussels, Belgium.
Were it not for a lapse in concentration on the third hole, where he contrived to make a double bogey from the middle of the fairway, Fleetwood would have entered the weekend with a better than even chance of securing his first Challenge Tour title, having finished runner-up twice – including once as an amateur – last year.
But the former Walker Cup player, whose victory at last year’s English Amateur Championship was the highlight of a superb amateur career, was keen to take the positives from a display of ball-striking which he judged to be as clean as any in his fledgling professional career.
He said: “It was much more enjoyable today than yesterday, once the rain had stopped after about the sixth hole. If you were hitting it well, which I was, then there was definitely a score to be had out there today.
“The double on the third was ridiculous really, especially as I’d played so well up until that point. I leaked my approach into the bunker, took two shots from the sand, and then duffed my next chip. I walked off the green wondering how I’d managed to make a double when I should’ve been looking at a birdie.
“At that point, I thought to myself: ‘no wonder you haven’t won yet!’ It was so frustrating. I actually got off to a slightly dogdy start but made a few good up and downs, then when I’d got my ball under control I go and run up a double out of nowhere. If I’d made a four – which is what I’d expect to do eight times out of ten – I would’ve shot a 62, and been five strokes clear instead.
“But I guess it’s all part of growing up and developing as a golfer. I’m beginning to make lots of birdies now and my putting’s really improved, so if I can cut out the mistakes then I’ll really be in business.”
England’s Jason Palmer climbed into contention with a round of 70 to join Italian Federico Colombo and his compatriot Oliver Whiteley in a share of second place on four under par.
The 26 year old from Leicestershire, competing in his first Challenge Tour season, will now go in search of improving his best performance, a tied seventh finish at the Allianz Challenge de France.
He said: “I had to stay patient on my front nine, because I was hitting some very average golf shots. But I kept going and holed a good putt for bogey on the 16th, which funnily enough gave me some momentum and I started to hole a few putts for birdie after that. I had a taste of being in contention in Paris a few weeks ago, so hopefully I’ve learned from that.”
Colombo, currently third in the Rankings thanks to three top six finishes so far this season, notched six birdies and two bogeys to move firmly into contention to land his maiden Challenge Tour title.
The 23 year old has been inspired by Matteo Manassero’s feats and, provided he can maintain his recent run of fine form, is confident of joining his younger compatriot on The European Tour.
He said: “I’ve been playing well for the last month or so now, so my confidence is high and instead of just trying to make the cut, I’m now looking to win the tournament. I’m well placed in the Rankings, but I’m not thinking about anything except this tournament at the moment.
“I missed a few short putts today but then made one from eight metres for birdie on the 17th, so the course took shots away on some holes, but then gave them back on others. The greens aren’t easy to read, because they’re quite small and very slopey in places so you have to be careful, especially with some of the pin positions today. But I’m now starting to get used to them, so hopefully they’ll drop in over the weekend.”
Whiteley’s putter rescued a “scrappy” round for the Englishman, who is making his first Challenge Tour appearance of the season after taking an extended break over the winter to work on his game.
He said: “It was a scrappy day, but I was pleased with the way I dug in. I don’t play in the rain back home if I can help it because I don’t enjoy it, but I managed to stay patient and grind a half-decent score out, mainly thanks to my putter. I holed two 25 footers for birdie on the 17th and 18th, so that was a nice way to finish the round and should make dinner taste a bit better tonight.”
The lowest score of the day was provided by Sweden’s Klas Eriksson, who shaved 15 shots off his first round total in a course record round of 64 to climb 121 places to a tie for 16th.
Overnight leader Grant Jackson of England slipped back to a share of fifth place on three under par after struggling in a round of 74.