Mark Tullo signed his second round off in style after a holed bunker shot for eagle at the par five last earned him a share of the lead alongside Edouard Espana on day two of the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club.
The leading pair are six under par for the tournament and a shot clear of two-time winner this season Benjamin Hebert of France, with Welshman Oliver Farr a stroke further adrift, while Jordi Garcia Pinto of Spain and England’s Andrew Marshall rounded out the top five some three strokes off the lead.
It was an up and down day for the first round leader Tullo, after he got off to the ideal start thanks to a birdie at the first, but four from the edge of the green saw him card a double bogey at the beastly par three third to fall back into the chasing pack.
The Chilean will be pleased with how he bounced back though, after a second consecutive eagle of the week at the par five eighth was duly followed by a dramatic three at the closing hole to ensure he retained at least a share of the lead heading into the final two rounds, as he chases the prestigious title of Challenge Tour Number One.
“It was probably the best finish I’ve had in a while,” said the VACON Open winner from August, who carded a two under par 70 on Thursday. “It was a strange day, I played well, but the greens got the best of me.
“I actually hit good shots and then poor putts, but that finish definitely makes the day a lot better. I was one over coming into the last couple and finished two under so that’s a great finish.
“It’s all up for grabs out there, as Edouard shot four under and there was a six under too, so it’s doable. In my case I just have to make less mistakes on the greens, as I’m up there for birdie quite often, so the idea tomorrow is to play better on the greens.
“It would be pretty cool to finish number one but I have no clue how it could happen. So many things would have to occur, but I’m really determined to have the best tournament I possibly can, and if that means I win, then great. If somebody beats me though, at least I tried the best I can.
“If I can find the groove and the touch on the green I could shoot a very low number out here. Yesterday I shot four under and left so many out there, and today I had a great finish but I need to crunch down and understand these greens, because I’m playing great.
“I’m hitting the driver good and taking care of the par fives, but the mistakes have been on the greens as I’ve been three-putting a lot for bogey, so I’ve got to get a hang of the long putts and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Espana arrives in Dubai looking to put the finishing touches on an exemplary first year on the second tier, having posted six top ten finishes in 2014 which included a career-best tie for third at the EMC Golf Challenge Open last month.
His day did not get off to the ideal start on Thursday after a dropped shot at the third, but three birdies to finish the front nine countered that, a feat he repeated on the back as another trio of gains made up for a solitary bogey on the 14th hole and saw him sign for a 68.
The Frenchman is still not assured of his place on The European Tour though, heading into the week at 11th on the Rankings, so he will hope for more of the same in the third round alongside his good friend and compatriot Hebert.
“I played well today, and the secret was definitely my putting,” said the 25 year old. “I made six birdies and just two bogeys, and my game was solid, so I was very happy to shoot 68. It was a good day.
“It looks like I will be playing with my friend tomorrow, which will be good as we have the same coach and do a lot of things together, so it will be great to play with him. I just hope we can shoot the same score tomorrow.
“I just want to keep the same attitude and focus on my game plan. I need to play with passion, hit good shots, and stay calm and that should do it.
“For the moment I am playing well, and have been for a couple of months going back to Kazakhstan. My game is solid, my putting is good and my head is very nice as I am focused on my game, and it is very good to play two good rounds to start this tournament. I’m not certain to be in the top 15 on the Rankings so I need two good rounds to finish off this week.
“I have been staying focused though, and not worry about the Rankings. I am happy on the course with my caddie James, and we are enjoying the walk out there so far this week, so I will focus on doing the same thing in the next two rounds.”
Jens Fahrbring had one of the more steady rounds of the day after a run of 17 pars was broken by a closing birdie to move him into a share of seventh at two under par. The Swede is alongside the experienced Robert Coles, who fired a 69 in round two, and Jake Roos, who still cannot be certain of his graduation despite two Challenge Tour titles in 2014.
Jerome Lando Casanova shot the round of the day, a course record 66, to move back to level par and retain some hope of a career-changing victory.
As for current Challenge Tour Number One Andrew Johnston, it was as you were, after a level par score saw him remain one over for the tournament and in need of an improvement in form if he is to ensure he finishes top of the pile this season.
Dubai Golf Scores after round two:
138 M Tullo (Chi) 68 70, E Espana (Fra) 70 68,
139 B Hebert (Fra) 70 69,
140 O Farr (Wal) 69 71,
141 A Marshall (Eng) 71 70, J Garcia Pinto (Esp) 72 69,
142 J Fahrbring (Swe) 71 71, J Roos (RSA) 73 69, R Coles (Eng) 73 69,
143 B An (Kor) 72 71, M Orrin (Eng) 69 74, B Ritthammer (Ger) 72 71,
144 A Hortal (Esp) 72 72, J Barnes (Eng) 71 73, L Jensen (Den) 69 75, B Åkesson (Swe) 74 70, J Lando Casanova (Fra) 78 66,
145 S Brown (Eng) 74 71, M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 74 71, A Johnston (Eng) 73 72, H Joannes (Bel) 74 71, B Evans (Eng) 72 73,
146 J Edfors (Swe) 76 70, A Tadini (Ita) 71 75, P Oriol (Esp) 75 71, C Bouniol (Fra) 78 68,
147 P Widegren (Swe) 74 73, J Lagergren (Swe) 78 69, D Coupland (Eng) 71 76, A Bernadet (Fra) 74 73,
148 W Harrold (Eng) 70 78, S Henry (Sco) 76 72, T Linard (Fra) 79 69,
149 N Quintarelli (Ita) 74 75, D Gaunt (Eng) 76 73, A Velasco (Esp) 71 78,
150 A McArthur (Sco) 73 77, M Delpodio (Ita) 72 78, J Huldahl (Den) 76 74, C Shinkwin (Eng) 77 73, S Hutsby (Eng) 76 74,
151 M Lampert (Ger) 76 75, P Edberg (Swe) 81 70,
152 J Palmer (Eng) 76 76
Source: European Tour