Ireland’s Simon Thornton continued his sparkling form on the second day of the money-spinning Kazakhstan Open to open up a two-shot lead over the rest of the field at the €400,000 Challenge Tour event.
Thornton, who finished in a tie for 21st place on his only previous visit to Kazakhstan two years ago, embarked on a birdie blitz on another day of high temperatures at Nurtau Golf Club, in Almaty, where he covered the front nine in just 31 shots.
The 34 year old made another gain at the tenth hole, before dropping his only shot of the day at the par three 14th hole. But Thornton finished on a high note with his seventh birdie of the day on the last to sign for a round of 66 which moved him to 11 under par, two shots clear of the rookie duo of Norway’s Knut Borsheim and 19 year old Englishman Chris Lloyd.
Thornton said: “I just tried to carry on doing what I did yesterday, because when you’re playing well sometimes you can start to get a little bit negative. That’s just the way the human mind works. But today I got off to a great start, starting holing some nice putts, and managed to keep the momentum going for the whole round.
“I actually missed a six-footer for birdie on the second, so I could’ve quite easily birdied my first five holes. Then I birdied the two par fives, the eighth and the tenth, which are both reachable – even for me – if you hit good drives, so if you only make a par there, you almost feel like you’re dropping a shot on the field. I don’t hit the ball a long way but you get a lot of run on the fairways out there, so that’s a big help for players like me.
“I played just as well on the back nine as I did on the front but just didn’t really hole any putts apart from the 18th, where I holed a nice one, so that was a great finish to another really pleasing day for me. The course is playing quite tough and the rough is really thick in places, so I’m absolutely thrilled to be on 11 under after two days.”
Borsheim, who is playing under a sponsor’s invitation, was equally delighted after signing for a flawless round of 65 to surge from tied 20th place overnight to a share of second place.
The young Norwegian, who graduated from Arizona State University in America last year, has shown little in his six previous appearances on the Challenge Tour to suggest that he would play a leading role this week, with a tie for 31st place at the Acaya Open his best performance to date.
But Borsheim revealed he has been struggling with chronic fatigue, and has only recently returned to full fitness.
He said: “I just felt tired all the time. I could hardly get out of bed in the morning, and had no energy to practise or play golf. I just had to be nice to my body for a while, because I think I was probably exhausted from college, and studying, and playing a lot of golf. I’ve got another scan in October to try to find out what the problem is, but at the moment I feel absolutely fine, which is probably why I’m playing much better now.
“I feel like a round like today’s has been coming for a while now, because I’ve been playing better and better – even if my results may not have shown that. The longest par putt I had today was from about three feet, so I was never really in any trouble.
“The course suits me, because I hit it pretty straight and long, so I can take advantage of some of the par fives especially. The set-up is quite similar to some of the courses over in the States with the thick rough, which I obviously got used to playing when I was at college over there. So I feel very comfortable out here.”
Lloyd is feeling increasingly at home on the Challenge Tour this term, having turned professional last year following a glittering amateur career which included two appearances in the Junior Ryder Cup and victory in the Jacques Léglise Trophy in 2009.
The Bristolian endured an indifferent front nine, with consecutive bogeys from the eighth hole cancelling out gains at the fourth and seventh, but he more than made amends with a blistering back nine which included four birdies.
Lloyd, currently 21st in the Challenge Tour Rankings, said: “I played much better today than I did yesterday. I only missed two greens all day, on the two holes I bogeyed. It was a bit frustrating to turn in level par because I felt I deserved more, but then after the turn I played well – especially the last seven holes, which is the best I’ve played in a long time. I made some nice putts on the way in, which gives me a lot of confidence going into the weekend.
“I’m really looking forward to it – I haven’t been in contention for a little while, and it’s what we play the game for. It’s always nice to be up near the top of the leaderboard, especially as it’s such a big tournament. It’ll be nice to climb back into the top 20 of the Rankings, but there’s a long way to go before I can start thinking about that.”
Lloyd’s compatriots Tommy Fleetwood and Sam Walker currently share fourth place on seven under par after carding respective rounds of 69 and 65.