We’ve reached the halfway stage of the Betfred British Masters and it’s been a ball-striking bonanza at the Belfry.
An all-British trio of Calum Hill, Robert MacIntyre and Richard Bland lead the way at seven under par with Justin Harding, Eddie Pepperell and Julien Guerrier a further shot back on a very tightly-knit leaderboard.
However their play tee-to-green has set them apart through two rounds, with MacIntyre the only player ranked outside the top five in that Strokes Gained statistic.
Return of the Mac
But despite a quiet start to the week from the 24-year-old, Thursday’s round of 66 catapulted him firmly back into contention. And having opened as the bookies’ ante-post favourite, he’s now ranked as short as 3/1 to win in-play with tournament sponsors Betfred.
The key to his success on day two was a massive improvement in his iron play, jumping from 118th to second in the field in Strokes Gained on Approach in just 24 hours.
The Scot was dialled in from the start, reeling off five birdies in a row to begin his round and, after a wobble around the turn, the 2019 Rookie of the Year finished with three birdies in his last five holes to join the lead at halfway.
Anything but Bland
Arguably the most impressive performance so far has been from 48-year-old Bland, who is hoping to make it 478th time lucky this week and finally break his duck on the European Tour, almost 20 years after making his debut appearance.
Only two players have made more starts at this level without a win, but the Englishman is the only man this week yet to drop a shot and has gained over four-and-a-half strokes on the field Tee to Green, more than anyone at halfway.
Despite that, he’s still ranked as big as 14/1 with two rounds to play.
Another trophy for Pep?
Perhaps best positioned to strike is the 2018 Betfred British Masters champion Eddie Pepperell, who shot 68 on Friday to get within one of the leaders.
The Englishman had his best finish of the year last week when tied for 12th in the Canary Islands Championship and has carried that form onto a course which on paper is better suited to his game.
He should also relish the forecast of bad weather for Saturday’s final round having thrived in similar conditions during his win in this event three years ago.
Finally, those who followed course form this week will be cursing themselves after the top four players from the UK Championship at the Belfry in August all missed the cut.
That includes the winner Rasmus Hojgaard after consecutive rounds of 74. The 20-year-old Dane has now missed three of his last four cuts worldwide.
But the most surprising player to struggle was Martin Kaymer. The former world number one shot rounds of 74 and 76 to miss the cut by five shots. That’s despite finishing third both at this course last year and on his latest European Tour appearance in Austria last month.
The German will now make an early trip to Kiawah Island in South Carolina for next week’s US PGA Championship, 10 years on from winning his first Major in that event at Whistling Straights in 2010.