De la Riva builds slender lead

16/03/2012 18:10:15
Eduardo De La Riva  (Getty Images)
Eduardo De La Riva (Getty Images)
Eduardo de la Riva birdied the difficult final hole at Aloha Golf Club to claim a one shot lead at the halfway stage of the Open de Andalucía Costa del Sol.

But the 29 year old – third in October’s Bankia Madrid Masters – has a host of big names queuing up behind him to challenge over the weekend.

Miguel Angel Jiménez has hopes of becoming The European Tour's oldest-ever winner, while the circuit's youngest-ever winner – Matteo Manassero – is only one behind despite a second round 73.

The 18 year old Italian held a three stroke lead after his course record-equalling opening round of 64.

Tournament promoter Jiménez is now in joint second place after a 68, and having turned 48 in January, the Ryder Cup star would be 39 days older than record holder Des Smyth if he grabs his 19th European Tour title on Sunday.

De la Riva, ranked 610th in The Official World Golf Ranking and one of eight players given places in the event off the Spanish Order of Merit, stands eight under par after rounds of 67 and 69.

He has been to The European Tour Qualifying School nine times and the only time he made it through was a decade ago, but last his third-place finish in the Spanish capital last year was his best finish.

“I had a poor start,” said de la Riva. “I missed a three footer on the first and bogeyed the second from 20 feet. 

“I was beginning to lose confidence, but then I hit it close and made birdie on the third - that settled me.

“I am very pleased with my birdie on 18 which is a challenging hole. I took a five wood and four iron over the water.

“I played well off the tee but the key today were my shots to the green from 100 to 150 yards.”  

Jiménez, at 51st the highest-ranked player in the field, is one behind along with Manassero, England’s Tommy Fleetwood, Irishman Damien McGrane, and another of the home contingent, Pablo Larrazabal.

Fleetwood, the 21 year old who won last year's Challenge Tour, completed his 69 with a birdie.

Among those on six under are Ryder Cup stars Eduardo Molinari and Oliver Wilson, nine times a runner-up without ever winning.

One of those near-misses came when he lost a play-off to Jiménez in the 2008 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He went on to earn a Ryder Cup debut later the same season, but lost his card last year after finishing 130th on The Race to Dubai.

Wilson, playing on an invitation from Jiménez, suffered from stomach ulcers and parasites from drinking water in Bahrain early in 2011, but is back to fitness now after finally having his system flushed out.

"It would be nice not to have to rely on invites, but that's the position I'm in," he said.

"Miguel's been fantastic. It means a lot, especially when it's another player."

Round of the day was a 65 from Italian Molinari. He played in the last Ryder Cup along with brother Francesco, but has been battling a wrist injury and is down to 88th in the Official World Golf Ranking after reaching 14th less than 18 months ago.

Molinari improved from one over to six under and another on the same mark is Abu Dhabi winner Robert Rock, who can clinch a Masters Tournament debut with another victory.

Canadian Mike Weir, champion at Augusta National in 2003 but now 1,206th in the OWGR following elbow surgery, is three under.