Mikko Ilonen (Getty Images)
Finland’s Mikko Ilonen compiled a breathtaking second round 63 at Binhai Lake Golf Club to establish a three shot halfway lead at the Volvo China Open.
Six years on from his two European Tour victories but having already finished ninth in Qatar and second in Morocco this season, Ilonen carded nine birdies – an approach to three feet at the fifth among the highlights – to reach 12 under par.
That was three clear of two recent European Tour winners – last week’s Ballantine’s Champion Brett Rumford and Maybank Malaysian Open victor Kiradech Aphibarnrat – as the 33 year old matched his best round on tour.
“I hit the ball better than yesterday,” said Ilonen. “I gave myself a few more chances on the greens, especially on the back nine, and managed to take quite a few of them, so it was a very stress-free round today. I didn’t put myself in any trouble at all, which is always nice, and it’s nice to be three ahead going into the weekend.
“I’ve had a couple of other 63s on the Tour before, but it’s difficult to compare. For example, I may have played better and only shot a 69. I’ve probably struck the ball better this year, but I don’t think I’ve putted better. It’s a good number of birdies definitely - I felt really good with my putter."
Australian Rumford had a six year gap between his third European Tour title and his victory last Sunday, where he eagled the first play-off hole to win.
The 35 year old carded seven birdies, including a fine iron to six feet at the second, and two bogeys in his 67.
“This is a new week and another tournament,” said Rumford, who birdied his last four holes.
“I feel good, my fitness is good and my energy levels feel nice and high, so hopefully I can ride the wave over the weekend and keep the good feelings going.
“It’s a nice feeling when you’re holing putts and seeing your name up near the top of the leaderboard. You’ve got to make the most of these moments when they come along, and I’m managing to do that at the minute.”
Thailand’s Aphibarnrat turned in 33 then holed birdie putts from eight feet at the 11th and five feet at the 15th to post a 67.
“My driver has done very well for the first two days,” he said. “When you have the chance to hit it long and get on the greens [in regulation] then you have a good chance to do well. I think I made 17 greens today.
“I plan to play as much as I can in Europe this year. Winning in Malaysia gave me a lot of confidence, and I hope to keep that as I carry on this year. I will always try to do my best.”
Overnight leader Robert-Jan Derksen was a shot further back in fourth after a 70, with Spain’s Pablo Larrazábal and England’s Lee Slattery sharing fifth on seven under.
Defending champion Branden Grace produced a fine comeback to keep his hopes alive. The South African was five over par with five holes to play in his opening round, but birdied three of them, then came home in a brilliant 30 today which saw him sign for a 67 and three under halfway total.