Little looks for 'great escape'

West Ham fan Sam Little believes it will be a “Great Escape” to eclipse that of the Hammers in the Premier League last season if he can keep his European Tour card in the Mallorca Classic.

West Ham fan Sam Little believes it will be a “Great Escape” to eclipse that of the Hammers in the Premier League last season if he can keep his European Tour card in the Mallorca Classic.

All looked lost for the Londoner three weeks ago when he lay outside the top 170 on the Order of Merit with only three events left to climb into the 118 and avoid an immediate return to the qualifying school.

But the 32-year-old was then joint seventh in the Madrid Open to qualify for the following week’s Portugal Masters and, after finishing 34th there, now finds himself in a share of fifth place in the rain-affected Mallorca Classic.

He needs to still be inside the top 10 when the tournament finishes on Sunday evening – weather permitting – to secure his card, and at least has a fighting chance after rounds of 66 and 69 gave him a five-under-par halfway total of 135.

That was four shots behind joint leaders Robert-Jan Derksen of Holland and France’s Jean-Francois Lucquin, with 54 players unable to complete their second rounds on Friday due to the knock-on effect of Thursday afternoon’s thunderstorm.

“I’m looking at eighth or ninth place to be absolutely certain but I’ll just try and win it and if I finish second then I’ll take it,” said Little, who kept his card by just £418 in 2005 but lost it last season and had to win it back at the qualifying school.

“At least it’s in my own hands and I’ve given myself a chance to compete. I didn’t play that well today but my putting has been really good and I managed to get it round.

“It was looking grim a few weeks ago but seventh in Madrid got me into Portugal and I played solidly there. It will be a great escape if I can pull it off, even better than West Ham, but if not I’ll have to go back to the tour school.

“I’ve been there before so I know what it takes.”

Clubhouse leaders Derksen and Lucquin both returned second rounds of 65 to lie nine under par, three clear of Ireland’s Peter Lawrie and Denmark’s Mads Vibe-Hastrup, winner of the Madrid Open a fortnight ago.

Pre-tournament favourite Sergio Garcia, first, second and second in his three appearances in the event, was three under par after nine holes of his second round when play was suspended.

Derksen has missed just three cuts in 27 events this season but would swap such consistency for a return to the winning form which brought him victories in the Dubai Desert Classic in 2003 and Madeira Island Open in 2005.

“If the tour gave out awards for consistency it would be great but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that,” joked the 33-year-old, second in the Russian Open in August, albeit a distant six shots behind winner Per-Ulrik Johansson.

“I’ve been very consistent all season and to top it off with a win would be great.”

Former European Tour rookie of the year Lawrie is still searching for his first victory and is also targeting a top-three finish to qualify for next week’s season-ending Volvo Masters at Valderrama.

The 33-year-old Dubliner returned to action recently after four weeks off around the birth of his second daughter Amelia, and admitted: “It certainly hampers your golf in some ways but it’s very rewarding and we are both delighted.

“I played lovely last week and that’s why I’m here really. I promised my wife Philippa I wouldn’t be away for too many weeks in a row but there’s a chance to qualify for Valderrama so here I am.”

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