Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (Getty Images)
France’s Jean-Baptiste Gonnet and England’s Gary Boyd will be vying for a maiden European Tour title this weekend after moving into a share of the halfway lead at the Volvo China Open.
Boyd, who has recorded two runner-up finishes during his three seasons on The European Tour, recorded a five under par 67 to reach 11 under at Binhai Lake Golf Club.
Gonnet, whose only top-three finish came during his rookie 2007 season when he was second in Sweden, was also round in 67 after six birdies and a single bogey.
They are a shot clear of South African Branden Grace, already a two-time winner on The Race to Dubai this year, with defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts in fourth on nine under par.
Gonnet’s performance continues the good form that has seen him finish 12th in Abu Dhabi, sixth in India and fifth in Qatar this season.
“I played very well again today, even off the tee which is really good for me,” he said.
“It’s good to be in the lead and the game is in good shape so I have a very good chance to win but I have to try and not think about it.
“My confidence levels are high because I have been playing well for the last two months. I had a lot of fun out there today and that is very important for me on the course, to try and have fun and enjoy it because the last two years have been very tough for me.
“It wasn’t tough to keep my card but I wasn’t getting too much enjoyment out of the game and I was bringing too much pressure on myself. I know this is a job but, for me, I have to enjoy it and remember why I started playing this game.
“I have to go back to the five year old kid and try to play for fun. That will be the main aim for the weekend – to go out there and try to enjoy it because there is no point in playing the game if you are not having fun.”
Boyd’s round started on the back nine and his start was far from ideal, a bogey at the 12th not cancelled out until the par five 18th as he turned in 36.
But the 25 year old birdied five of his last eight holes, including a 12 foot putt at the fifth.
“It was good out there,” he said. “I had to stay patient on the front nine and was one over playing my ninth hole but managed to get on in two and two putt for birdie and really get my round going.
“The back nine I managed to take a few more chances and finished it off with a three wood to eight feet on the ninth - it was the shot of the year so far for me. I hit the driver off the tee and it went left into the bunker and I didn’t know if it was a five or three wood but I went for the three and it just came out perfectly and I managed to make the putt.
“I have been playing pretty well and I have just trusted what I have been working on with my old coach since two weeks ago. I was a bit lost in too many thoughts and trying too many different things for a while and that is not something that you want to be doing in tournament golf. It is starting to pay off this week.
“It has been a long while since I was properly up there – probably Czech Republic or Switzerland round about September last year – but I am going to draw on those experiences going into the weekend.”
Grace, who won back-to-back titles in South Africa at the start of the year after coming through Qualifying School, had three birdies and an eagle two at the seventh after hitting his tee shot to five feet as he carded a second-straight 67.
“There are opportunities out there,” he said. “It wasn’t easy because you still had to hit the shots and get it going.
“The most important thing I did today was to play the difficult holes for me sensibly. I didn’t take any chances on the holes that could cause me real trouble and then I managed to birdie the ones where I can make chances.”
Belgian Colsaerts, looking to become the first player in the history of the event to successfully defend the title, carded five birdies and two bogeys in his round, but for the second day running, the highlight of the biggest hitter on The European Tour’s round came at the par five second.
The 29 year old needed only an iron into the 575 yard hole, and struck it to two feet before holing the eagle putt.
“It was pretty good for the first two days,” he said. “Funnily enough I probably played better yesterday and shot four under and then went one better today in the tougher conditions.
“I made one or two mistakes today but you just have to accept that on a day like this. It got really tough out there about halfway through the round. The wind really started to blow and the temperature went down about ten degrees.”