Graeme Bell took a significant step towards claiming a place on the 2013 European Senior Tour Schedule after signing for a round of 66 on the second day of the Qualifying School Final.
A superb putting performance saw the Englishman open up a three shot lead over the rest of the field at the midway stage of the Final, which is being played on Pestana Golf Resort’s Vale da Pinta course.
On another glorious day of unbroken sunshine in Portugal’s Algarve region, Bell plundered seven birdies to move to seven under par and within touching distance of one of the six full cards available for the 2013 Senior Tour season.
The 49 year old, the head professional at Eaglescliffe Golf Club in the north east of England, currently leads by three strokes from his compatriots Simon Brown and Wraith Grant, Swede Peter Dahlberg and American Robert Thompson.
Bell’s front nine was a measured affair, as he mixed two birdies with a bogey at the sixth hole; but a further gain at the tenth hole was the cue for a birdie blitz on the back nine, as he raced home in just 33 shots to post the lowest round of the week so far.
The former gas engineer said: “I just decided to pick my line and commit to the putt, because the more time you spend looking at the putt, the more doubts that creep into your mind and the less likely you are to hole it. It seemed to work for me today, so I see no reason to change it now.
“I didn’t hole any huge putts – the longest one I made was from about 20 feet, and the rest were all from makeable range. But you don’t normally hole all of them, so it was just one of those days on the greens you get every now and then. The last two birdies were a case in point – they were tricky downhill putts and I would’ve been happy to get down in two, but they both dropped in to round off a very nice day.
“I wouldn’t say I was confident coming into the week but I knew I was capable of playing error-free golf, so if I could do that and hole a few birdie putts into the bargain, I thought I would give myself half a chance. I played pretty well in difficult circumstances at the First Stage last week, and I’ve managed to carry my good form into this week. But it’s a bit premature to be thinking about getting a card at this stage, because a lot can still happen over the last two days.”
Overnight leader Brown was left to rue dropped shots at two of the par fives on the back nine, particularly on the 16th hole where his drive ended up behind a tree in the middle of the fairway.
The ensuing bogey was one of four in a level par round of 71 which saw him remain on four under par.
His fellow Englishman Grant, on the other hand, was understandably delighted with a flawless round of 68 which included birdies for the second successive day on the 12th and 14th holes.
Dahlberg also birdied the 12th hole to get his round back on track after a potentially card-wrecking double bogey on the 11th hole, where he found two bunkers.
The Swede, who birdied his final hole at last week’s First Stage to qualify for the Final by a single stroke, is making his third appearance at the School, and has every chance of ensuring it is a successful trip after signing for a round of 69 and a four under par aggregate total.
Thompson is on the same mark after he too signed for a round of 69 which included three birdies and a solitary bogey.
The American is close friends with Tim Thelen, who captured three Senior Tour titles last season after winning the Final in 2010.
Thompson is hoping to emulate his compatriot’s achievements, and the advice he received from Thelen is clearly paying off as he moved into a strong position to finish inside the all-important top six.
There will be a cut after the third day’s play, leaving any players within eight strokes of 14th place to battle it out in the final round for the six full and eight conditional cards available.