If Damien McGrane designed a course to suit his game, it might look a lot like Aloha Golf Club where he lies just a shot off the lead at the halfway stage of the Open de Andalucía Costa del Sol.
The 40 year old from Kells carded a four under par 68 to finish the day in a five way tie for second with evergreen tournament promoter Miguel Angel Jiménez, 18-year old Italian Matteo Manassero, Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood on seven under par.
As Spanish journeyman Eduardo de la Riva added a 69 to his opening 67 to lead by a stroke on eight under, McGrane played to his strengths on a short but tight course near Marbella to keep alive his hopes of his first tour wins since he broke through to win his maiden title in China nearly four years ago.
“I like the course and I like the challenge the course brings,” said McGrane, who came close to losing his tour card last year. “I played steady all day, that’s the main thing and I am looking forward to more of the same thing over the weekend. I feel good and there is nothing wrong with my game, so let’s get on with it.”
Aloha’s tight fairways and small undulating greens put a premium on clever course management and demon scrambling, which are two of McGrane’s strengths.
“I played lovely today, the same as I played yesterday,” McGrane said after a roud featuring seven birdies and three bogeys. “I had three bogeys today and most of them came from three putting. But I was happy enough I got plenty of birdies and made a few reasonable putts.
“Any time I got it close, I made it for birdie. Okay, I missed a few for pars but that’s par for the course out here when the greens get a bit bumpy in the afternoons. I’m creating lots of opportunities and I was very patient out there.”
Michael Hoey finished with a long range birdie at the 18th to card a second successive 69 that left him tied for seventh, just two shots behind 29-year old de la Riva, who is one of eight players given places in the event off the Spanish Order of Merit.
“It’s a trick course and the greens are severe,” said Hoey, now ranked 96th in the world following his Alfred Dunhill Links win last season. “You can’t be too aggressive to certain pins. I think the key is playing the par-fives and the par-threes well because you are talking about hitting two or three three-irons to the par-threes.
“There are a lot of chances but if you miss the green and short-side yourself, it’s a tough par. If you under borrow on these greens you can three or four-putt here.”
Hoey has been working hard on his putting strategy with putting expert Phil Kenyon but he’s also pleased with the progress he has made on his swing with coach Jamie Gough.
“It gets too excited, too quick, if I am going well,” he said of his swing. “I just need to chill out a bit more.”
With the top 30 players covered by just four shots, Hoey knows that there will be little time for chilling out if he is to win for the fourth time on the European Tour.
“It’s very bunched and it’s going to be close so I am looking forward to it,” he said.
Jiménez has hopes of becoming the European Tour’s oldest-ever winner after a 68, and having turned 48 in January, the Ryder Cup star would be 39 days older than record holder Des Smyth if he grabs his 19th European Tour title on Sunday.
Gareth Maybin is just four shots off the pace on four under after a 68 with Simon Thornton two under after a 70 and Shane Lowry just inside the cut mark on one under after a 72.
Peter Lawrie, who was dead last after an opening 78, bounced back with an excellent, bogey free 68 but still missed the level par cut by two shots.
Round of the day was a 65 from Italian Edoardo Molinari, who improved from one over to six under alongside Hoey, Oliver Wilson, Raphael Jacquelin, Hennie Otto, Joakim Lagergren, David Lynn and Abu Dhabi winner Robert Rock, who can clinch a Masters Tournament debut with another victory.
Canadian Mike Weir, champion at Augusta National in 2003 but now 1,206th in the OWGR following elbow surgery, is three under.