Gaganjeet Bhullar (Getty Images)
Four players share the halfway lead at the Austrian GolfOpen presented by Lyoness – and all will be chasing their first European Tour title this weekend.
India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar, England’s Robert Coles, Dutchman Joost Luiten and Dane Thomas Nørret all reached seven under par at the Diamond Country Club.
European Tour veteran Coles produced the best round of the day, the 39 year old firing a sparkling 65.
Coles, whose search for a first European Tour win goes back 15 years and more than 300 events, produced a brilliant seven under par bogey-free round.
He came closest to victory at this year’s Avantha Masters, where needing a four at the par five closing hole he took four from the edge of the green for a bogey six.
But he had no such problems seeing out his second round here, firing a hattrick of gains from the sixth - his 15th - culminating in a 60 foot birdie putt at the eighth.
“I made quite a few long putts so I proabbly turned a 68 into a 65,” said Coles. “I’m not going to complain about that.
“You have got to hit the fairways here if you want to make a score. I have been driving it better this week because it had been pretty terrible recently. It feels a lot better better now.
“I really enjoyed it out there today and that is always the key for me. If I am happy and enjoying my golf then I will generally play well so hopefully I can keep doing that over the weekend and we will see what happens.”
He was joined on seven under par first by Luiten, who added a two under 70 to his opening 67.
The 25 year old carded back-to-back birdies at the third and fourth, the first from 25 feet followed by an approach to within a foot at the next.
“My short game has kept me in with a chance so far,” said Luiten. “I have hit a few misses but they have been good missses if you can say that, and I have to hang in there and stay close to the lead and then see what we can do on Sunday. I really like to play with the pressure of the final round.”
At 51st and 57th on The Race to Dubai, Coles and Luiten are at least certain of their place on The European Tour next season – both can cement a place in the Dubai World Championship with a strong finish in Atzenbrugg.
However, the same cannot be said for Bhullar and Nørret, both of whom are some way from the all-important top 115 players that will retain their cards.
Qualifying School graduate Nørret lies 173rd, but despite finding water en route to an opening double bogey he responded with six birdies and two bogeys in a two under 70.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in that position, and I’m actually quite happy with handling it the way I did,” said the rookie. “Even after a bad start, I turned it around. It just gives me more confidence.”
Bhullar is 195th in The Race to Dubai but won on The Challenge Tour earlier this year and was ninth at last month’s Czech Open.
He raced into the lead with six birdies in an outward 30 and threatened to establish a large lead when he reached ten under by chipping in for another birdie on the first.
But a bogey at the third was followed by a triple bogey seven at the next and he needed a birdie at the sixth to keep pace with the leaders.
“Even before the round I was very confident because I knew that I was hitting the ball very well,” he said.
“The last few weeks I have been driving it great and today I putted and chipped well which is what I have been waiting for. I just felt so positive before the round todzay and you saw that on the front nine.”
The quartet are two shots clear of Australia’s Daniel Gaunt, England’s Simon Wakefield, Italy’s Emanuele Canonica and local amateur Matthias Schwab, who shone with a five under 67.
Overnight leader Liam Bond is a shot further back after the Welsh rookie followed his opening 66 with a two over 74.
Open Championship Silver Medal winner Tom Lewis will earn a cheque in his first event as a professional after a 70 left him level par, one ahead of three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington.
Lewis’ Walker Cup winning teammate Andy Sullivan is also set to join the paid ranks after making the cut with nothing to spare on three over, along with European Amateur Champion Manuel Trappel.
But the third member of Great Britain & Ireland’s Walker Cup side playing this week, Northern Irishman Paul Cutler, will have to wait for his first payday after finishing seven over.
John Daly also left the tournament early after walking off the course after taking an incorrect drop, abandoning his round at the 15th following a two-shot penalty over the placement of his ball after hitting into the water.