A clearly revitalised Michael Hoey made it seven new season cuts in succession with a five-under par tally heading to the weekend rounds of the storm-affected Betfred British Masters at Hillside.
An electrical storm late morning lashed the course just after Hoey had bogeyed his 16th, forcing a 75-minute delay, with the Belfast golfer emerging from a short ‘snooze’ to par his 17th and hole for birdie on 18 in a round of 71.
Hoey, 40 left the course just inside the top-20 and seven shots behind England’s Matt Wallace who posted scores of 65 and 67 for the 29-year old’s 12-under par total and one stroke lead in the Euro 3.5m event.
Hoey continued to lead the Irish challenge despite losing ground on the leaders at the halfway stage of the Betfred British Masters and one shot further adrift is 2017 champion, Paul Dunne who improved nine places after a three-under par 69 moved him into a share of 34th at minus-four.
However, with a sharp cut falling at two-under par, Gavin Moynihan’s even par second round effort wasn’t enough to repair the damage of an opening day 75 as he missed out on the weekend action by five shots.
At the top, Wallace put himself in pole position to start the latest chapter of his golfing story with a win as he opened up a one shot lead heading into the weekend.
The Englishman has arrived at Hillside Golf Club this week with a fresh approach as he looks to move up the Official World Golf Ranking and start challenging for Major Championships after a meteoric rise in recent times.
He has won four European Tour titles since 2017 and a second round 67 in Southport kept him bogey free through 36 holes and put him in position to challenge for another at 12 under.
Countryman Ross Fisher, Belgian Thomas Detry, Swede Niklas Lemke and Scot Richie Ramsay were his nearest challengers, with Lemke making a remarkable eight birdies in a row as he signed for 64.
Fisher took one more blow and Detry and Ramsay carded rounds of 67 to sit a shot ahead of another Swede in Marcus Kinhult, who recorded a 69.
Wallace has recently added to his backroom team as part of his new approach and while he would dearly love to win his home event, he admitted it was all part of the bigger picture, citing Race to Dubai and Open Champion Francesco Molinari as inspiration.
“It’s not about this week because I want to take that next step,” he said. “I want to win the big tournaments and I haven’t performed in the big tournaments really at all.
“To do that we have started this new process and it will come at some point rather than come straightaway. So this week, we’ve got no expectations. We’re going out there to play and I’m showing some good stuff.
“It’s very similar to if you think about Francesco. Three years ago, he wasn’t where he was now and he’s taken that different approach, his own approach, and I’ll have mine. I want to be doing what he’s doing, Ryder Cups and Majors and competing at every single event pretty much.
“We have to learn our trade, learn the way, and this week is a start where I’m just going to try and play and start fresh.”
Lemke bogeyed the 11th but then made that incredible run of birdies from the 13th – with the help of a chip-in at the 16th – and only saw it ended when he could not hole out from a greenside bunker on the third.
The 35-year-old hit a beautiful approach into the sixth to extend his lead to two shots but Wallace cut that to one as he took advantage of the par five 11th, 17th and second, and he was soon joined at ten under by countryman Fisher.
The five time European Tour winner turned in 32 with birdies at the tenth, 11th, 13th and 17th but dropped a first shot of the day on the first.
He then took advantage of the second and some more wonderful iron play brought further birdies on the third and fourth before play was suspended for an hour and 12 minutes due to the threat of lightning.
Blue skies and higher temperatures greeted the players upon their return, and Fisher got on the green in two at the par five fifth to make it four birdies in a row and join the lead.
Wallace found sand with his second at the same hole but got up and down to make it a three way tie at the top.
A wonderful approach straight at the flag left the four time European Tour winner with five feet for birdie at the next, and he made no mistake to hit the front on his own.
In the afternoon, Detry took advantage of the fifth, holed a 30 footer at the next, and then hit a stunning approach into the eighth and tee shot into the tenth to move into double figures.
A poor tee shot at the 12th led to a bogey but he hit wonderful approaches into the 14th and 15th before dropping a shot at the next and holing a long putt on the last.
Ramsay turned in 33 with four birdies and a bogey and was still nine-under stood on the 17th tee before a birdie-birdie finish.
Kinhult made four birdies and a bogey in his round to sit a shot ahead of England’s Matthew Jordan and two clear of Victor Dubuisson, Maximilian Kieffer and Lee Westwood.
Tournament host Tommy Fleetwood and defending champion Eddie Pepperell were in the group at seven under.
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