Liam Bond was today looking to take a step closer to an unlikely victory in the ISPS Handa Wales Open which would quadruple his career earnings and leave him top of the Ryder Cup qualifying race.
Bond is ranked 1,528th in the world and only got into the tournament at the last minute, but the 43-year-old Welshman amazingly found himself holding the halfway lead at Celtic Manor.
Rounds of 69 and 68 gave Bond a five-under-par total of 137, one shot clear of first-round leader Espen Kofstad – who could only add a 74 to his opening 64 - and South African Tjaart van der Walt.
The club professional at nearby St Pierre, Bond won his European Tour card on his 16th visit to the qualifying school but was unable to retain it after finishing 191st on the Order of Merit in 2011.
Since then he has concentrated largely on regional events, winning three this season, and missed the cut in his only Challenge Tour event of 2013 in Scotland in June.
“I’m playing way better than when I had my card in 2011,” said Bond, whose career earnings of around £100,000 are dwarfed by the first prize here of £300,000, not to mention the Ryder Cup points on offer in the first qualifying event.
“If I was on tour this year I would be loving it but I put myself under a lot of pressure when I was on the tour. I was trying to work harder and hit more balls and everything was under close scrutiny.
“I feel my game is still pretty good and I only found out I was playing on Wednesday afternoon so I didn’t have any time to over-prepare like I have done in the past. The pressure is off because I’m not trying to keep my card. I’m just trying to play and enjoy it.”
Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley has already ruled himself out of playing at Gleneagles next year but was just two off the lead on three under, alongside England’s Graeme Storm, who is reaping the benefits of using a club rejected by Jose Maria Olazabal.
“I was looking for a new putter in Ireland and picked this one up,” Storm said. “The guy said it had been specially made for Olazabal but he didn’t want it. I picked it up and since then I’ve played great with it.”
Storm finished 32nd in Ireland but then third the following week in the French Open, the site of his only European Tour title to date in 2007.