Rikard Karlberg (Getty Images)
Rikard Karlberg will take a two shot lead into the weekend at the M2M Russian Open as the Swede seeks his maiden European Tour title.
The 26 year old, playing his 50th European Tour event despite never having been fully exempt, shot a four under par 68 at Tseleevo Golf & Polo Club to reach nine under for the halfway stage.
That was two clear of England’s Matthew Baldwin, France’s Alexandre Kaleka, China’s Liang Wen-chong and Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey.
“It was a pretty tough day out there today because the wind got really strong in the middle of the round and caused quite a few problems,” said Karlberg, who birdied four of his first six holes, dropped shots at the 18th and fifth, then finished with two gains over the closing stretch to reclaim his advantage.
“But I made a really good start to the round and then when the conditions got worse I managed to hang in there and then had a great finish with two birdies in my last few holes which is very satisfying obviously.
“I am in a great position right now but there is still a long way to go. We are only at the halfway stage and I need to keep doing what I have been doing and making birdies to have a chance.
“I am looking forward to the weekend – this is why we play the game; to get ourselves into these positions so hopefully I can keep playing well and make another good score tomorrow and we will go from there.”
Kaleka won this event last year when it was part of the Challenge Tour schedule, and was delighted to overcome a double bogey at the 12th for the second day running with an incredible seven birdies as he signed for a round of 67 at a venue that clearly suits his eye.
“It was pretty special to come back here after winning on the Challenge Tour at Tseleevo last year,” he said. “As soon as I arrived at the club, a lot of great memories of last year came back to me and thankfully I have been able to use that to help me play well again this week.
“As soon as it was announced the tournament was coming here I was pretty happy because this golf course really suits my game. It is quite wide off the tee and long, and that really suits my game because I hit the ball quite far and it allows me a bit of an advantage.
“I am looking forward to the weekend and to try and win the tournament again. There is obviously a lot of golf to be played before Sunday, but I am in a good position and it would great to win here again.”
The 26 year old Baldwin, who finished an impressive 76th on The Race to Dubai in his rookie campaign last year but is yet to finish higher than fifth on The European Tour, birdied his final hole for a 69 as he advanced to seven under par.
“I have to admit that it wasn’t very pretty out there at times today,” he said. “It was a strange day really because I didn’t feel that I played that great but I managed to get a score together and that is the most important thing.
“I don’t really care if it looks ugly to be honest with you, as long as I am happy when I sign that scorecard then that is all that really matters!”
Overnight co-leader Liang had been level with Karlberg and England’s Simon Dyson on five under par after the first round.
The 34 year old’s only European Tour win came in 2007, and he had not posted a top-ten finish in more than two years prior to finishing third in India and Austria this season.
Having bogeyed the opening hole this morning, he fought back with four birdies and only one further dropped shot.
“I am very happy with the score because the conditions were a lot tougher than yesterday afternoon,” he said. “This morning it was cold and wet and the wind was really difficult to manage, so to shoot two under is a good result for me this morning."
Four-time European Tour winner Hoey has not finished better than 25th on The European Tour this season and had missed seven of his last ten cuts coming into the event.
However, eight birdies and three bogeys in a brilliant 67 suggest the Northern Irishman may be recapturing his best form.
“It’s been a bit up and down to be honest,” the 34 year old admitted. “The good stuff is really good but then I am making quite a lot of silly mistakes which is costing me a lot of shots.
“You just need to look at the scores: I have made 15 birdies in the first two rounds here and I am only seven under. So I really need to stop making silly errors because you can’t do that for four days at this level and expect to win a golf tournament; it’s not possible.
“They are just silly errors that creep in now and then. You just shouldn’t be flying the ball over greens with a wedge in your hand for example, that was probably the most frustrating one today.
“But I need to look at the positives – I am on that leaderboard and in a good position for the weekend. If I can get rid of those silly mistakes then I still have a great chance to win.”
English amateur Jack Singh Brar shot the best round of the day with a 66 to climb more than 50 places and safely make the cut on one under, but his compatriot Dyson slipped back to three under after a 74 that included a double bogey seven on the 17th.