Carlos Aguilar (Ian MacNicol)
Spaniard Carlos Aguilar rattled off four successive birdies en route to grabbing the lead at the midway stage of the ALLIANZ Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne on the Challenge Tour.
The 29 year old from Alicante has been competing predominantly on France’s Allianz Tour and the Spanish National Tour, but he set up a golden opportunity to claim a place on the Challenge Tour with a round of 66 which moved him to five under par.
After a superb round of 64 former Ryder Cup player Peter Baker of England, who won the inaugural event in 2007, is in the chasing pack on three under par, alongside Sweden’s Jens Dantorp and Finn Mikko Korhonen.
Aguilar took full advantage of the more benign afternoon conditions at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André, in northern France, with six birdies, including four in a row from the fourth hole.
If he can hold onto his slender lead for the final two days of the €160,000 event, Aguilar will become the first Spanish winner on the Challenge Tour since Carlos Del Moral prevailed at the M2M Russian Challenge Cup in September 2010, one week after Alvaro Velasco won the Kazakhstan Open on his way to topping the Rankings.
Aguilar said: “Both of my bogeys were from three-putts, so I’m very happy with my long game. I’ve played very consistently both days even though the conditions have been quite difficult, so I’m very satisfied. Whenever I missed the green I managed to miss on the right side, so it was straightforward to get up and down. I made a few nice birdie putts, including a long one on the 15th, and I also holed a good par putt on the last, so it was a good day.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend now, hopefully I can keep it going. I think the weather forecast for the weekend is quite good, so that would suit me because I prefer playing when the sun is out. I don’t have much experience of leading on the Challenge Tour because I haven’t really been in this position before, but I’m sure I will enjoy it and if I can keep playing the way I have been, then it will give me a good chance.”
Baker, who started on the tenth tee, surged through the field with a front nine of 31 which included birdies at the 11th, 14th, 15th and 17th holes.
With the exception of a double bogey at the second hole his back nine was no less impressive, as gains at the fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth holes moved the three-time European Tour champion firmly into contention to capture his fourth Challenge Tour title.
Earlier in the day Dantorp, despite a seven on his card, had signed for a stunning round of 63 to surge from tied 75th overnight into a share of second place.
Dantorp is no stranger to feats of incredibly low scoring, having lived every professional golfer’s dream at the Bravo Tour Open on the Satellite Nordic League last season, when he signed for a magical round of 59.
Needless to say, Dantorp went on to win that tournament en route to topping the Nordic League’s Order of Merit, thus earning him a place on the Challenge Tour this season.
The 22 year old from Malmö has enjoyed a productive start to his debut Challenge Tour campaign, following up a tied 12th finish in India with a joint 30th finish in Kenya to climb into the top 30 of the Rankings.
But his round of 63 – which included ten birdies, six pars, a bogey and that double bogey seven – was comfortably the lowest of Dantorp’s fledgling Challenge Tour career.
According to Dantorp, the main difference between an opening round of 74 and his rather more spectacular effort on the second day was that his putter caught fire, despite the cool temperatures and stiff breeze which greeted the morning starters.
He said: “Other than my double bogey, I have to be very pleased with that round. Unfortunately I lost my first drive and then hit my second tee shot into the thick rough, so in the end I was quite pleased to walk off with a seven. And I got the shots straight back, so in the end it didn’t matter too much.
“The wind was much calmer than yesterday and the game just felt quite easy today. I was hitting my approach shots close, and my putter was really hot – I made a lot of putts from three or four metres. I don’t know how many putts I had, but I know it wasn’t very many! Hopefully if I can keep that going over the weekend, I will have a good chance.”
Korhonen, playing his first event of the season after recovering from the wrist surgery he underwent in February, joined Dantorp on three under par, albeit with a more mundane round of 69.
Having spent six weeks recuperating from surgery, Korhonen flew to Orlando, America, to undergo some intensive winter practice with his fellow Finns Antti Ahokas and Roope Kakko, whose nuptials he attended on New Year’s Eve.
And the practice paid off with a steady display which included birdies at the 10th (his first), seventh and eighth holes, where he drained a 30 foot putt.
Korhonen said: “I’m happy, because I played very steady. I started with a birdie but then had to wait a long time for my second one, so I had to be patient. But I struck my driver very well all day, and the key to going low round here is to keep the ball in play and away from the rough, because the greens are quite receptive. So if you find the fairways, you’ve got a chance of making birdies. It was a shame to finish with a bogey, but I won’t worry too much about it.
“This is my first tournament since Q School last year, so I’ve been itching to go. It was frustrating having the wrist surgery, because it made for a very long off-season. But I needed to get it done, because my fingers were starting to feel a bit numb. But I’m back now, so hopefully I can start to make up for lost time.”
Joint overnight leaders Stephen Grant of Ireland and England’s Chris Hanson struggled to build on their solid opening efforts, as both carded rounds of 73 to fall back to level par.
But there was better news for England’s Ricki Neil-Jones, who aced the 15th hole with a sand wedge from 115 yards.