Ruaidhri McGee added a two-under-par 69 to his opening 66 to qualify in a share of third spot as the Andalucia- Costa del Sol Match Play 9 whittled down to its final 64 in Spain.
The Rosapenna man fired four birdies and just the two dropped shots as he bounced back from his missed cut last week on a rare venture into European Tour company in Sicily.
He heads the Irish challenge after 36-holes of stokeplay, but the game all changes now as the top-64 compete in a series of nine-hole contests.
Michael Hoey continued his fine form of late, dropping just the one shot in 68 blows to qualify comfortably at five-under-par.
Ardglass’ Cormac Sharvin was another to bounce back strongly after missing out on the halfway cut in Portugal last week as he added a one-under-par 70 to his opening 69 to advance at minus three and in a share of 23rd.
Dermot McElroy joins his fellow Northern Irishman in the weekend draw despite a two-over-par 73 in Malaga.
Unfortunately there was heartbreak for Whitehead’s John Ross Galbraith who clawed his way back from plus three to force a playoff for the last remaining spots in the Matchplay draw. Having fired a superb three-under-par 68, Galbraith bogeyed the first extra hole, the par-3 ninth, and his hopes of weekend action went with it.
There was no luck either for Dublin’s Gavin Moynihan, who finished runner-up at this event last season, while Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell also fell well short of the cut mark.
While having qualified for the event off the back of his top-5 finish atthe 56º Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resortlast week, West Waterford’s Gary Hurley was forced to withdraw ahead of his second round. He was seven over at the time.
Hugo Leon will go into the knockout stage as the number one ranked player after he topped the leaderboard on nine-under-par after the final day of regular stroke play.
The Chilean charged up the leaderboard with a stunning six-under-par round to join Stuart Manley at the top. However, with Leon carding the better second round out of the duo, he will be the top seed in the match play format.
The 33-year-old claimed four birdies on his front nine to begin his second round with momentum. His confidence surged with another gain at the start of his back nine.
The two-time winner on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada gained two more birdies in the Spanish sunshine, and even with a bogey on the last, his spirit was not dampened as he shared top spot with Welshman Manley.
In his first season on the Challenge Tour, the former US Open player is delighted with his two days’ work and is looking forward to an intense weekend of match play.
“My game has been very good so far and it’s nice to see all the parts of my game are coming together,” he said. “This is the first week this year that I feel my putting is the way I know it should be, which is something that is really exciting for me.
“I’ve never played in a format like this before and I anticipate it being really, really intense from the get-go. It’s only nine holes playing against professional golfers and anything can happen, so the game has to be sharp from the get-go – there’s no laying off on it. I’m looking forward to it!
“It’s the first time that I’ve taken the lead on a Challenge Tour event. It is something I’m planning on doing a couple more times this year.
I’ve played some really good golf and I’m planning on doing the same thing over the next couple of days.”
Manley shared first place with Leon after a round of 69. The 39 year old has led in three of the last four rounds on the Challenge Tour, and he continued to impress once again in Spain.
He bounced back from a bogey on the third hole with two successive birdies on holes four and five. Two more gains and one bogey on his back nine meant he held firm at the top of the leaderboard until Leon’s afternoon surge. However, the former Walker Cup winner will be eager to keep his good form going throughout the match play.
“Obviously you’re going to have a tough opponent every match and you can’t look past each game, so I’ll be very focused on the nine holes tomorrow against my opponent and hopefully I can get a win,” he said. “I like to play the opponent now and not the course. I’ll see exactly what he does and whether I need to push, whether I need to be safe, so I’ll definitely be playing the opponent.”