Hoey and Maybin shine, McGrane and McDowell grind

Michael Hoey (NIR) en route to a fine 66 in the second round of the 2014 Alstom Open de France. Picture: David Lloyd / www.golffile.ie

Graeme McDowell used to call him "Mágico" when they were growing up and with five European Tour wins under his belt, he wasn't far off the mark in his moniker for Shandon Park star Michael Hoey.

Winner of the British Amateur and a sterling Walker Cup partner for McDowell in that talented 2001 Great Britain and Ireland side that beat the United States on American soil, Hoey has always been an enigmatic, inconsistent, yet enormously talented performer. 

For a quite a while it looked as though he was destined to drown in the shallow backwaters of tour life before he won three times on the Challenge Tour over a roller-coaster, four-year period, eventually breaking through on the main tour in 2009 with victory in the Estoril Open de Portugal.

He has had to make six trips to the European Tour Qualifying School since he turned professional but has now won as many European titles since 2009 as McDowell (five) and only one fewer than Rory McIlroy.

His biggest win came in 2011 when he held off McIlroy and McDowell to win the Alfred Dunhill Links title at St Andrews, earning €588,148 to get married life with his wife Bev off to a dream start.

Since then he's blossomed as a tour player, become a father (with baby No 2 on the way) and added two more tour wins to his resumé.

Despite all that, you get the impression that the 35-year old Belfast man is only scratching the surface and while he's sought and attained more consistency this season, all he needs now is another big win to propel himself into the really big time.

Ranked 180th in the world — he rose as high as 98th with his win at St Andrews — he's clearly got the game to become a world beater.

The latest proof came when he carded a five under par 66 in the second round of the Open de France at Le Golf National, catapulting himself into a share of fourth with the likes of McDowell, seven strokes behind Kevin Stadler, who leads by three from Victor Riu of France after sensational rounds of 64 and 68.

Hoey can still claim one of three Open Championship spots on offer in Paris. Stadler permitting, he's got the ability to challenge for a sixth European Tour win that could finally catapult him into the really big league

Having finished bogey-triple for a 73 on Thursday, Hoey started on the back nine on Friday and and played his first seven holes in five under par.

He was level for the rest of the journey as bogeys at the 18th and fourth were cancelled out by birdie fours at the third and ninth.

As he gains in confidence as a tour player, it will be fascinating to see if he can develop the kind of grinding skills that have made McDowell a superstar.

The Portrush man confessed that he did not strike the ball well on Friday and yet he still managed to post a two under 69 that leaves him a fighting chance of defending his title and boosting his chances of automatic qualification for the Ryder Cup.

It's McDowell's ability with the wedges and putter, not to mention his accuracy and course management nous, that has made him such a formidable competitor. But he's also got that X-Factor - the self-belief to get the most out of his game, no matter how poorly he might be swinging the club.

"I didn't have much pressure on the golf ball today," McDowell said. "Hit it much, much better yesterday. You know, I've really been  working on trying to get through the ball. I was kind of getting a bit body first today and leaving the club behind and didn't really have much sequence  going on in my swing.

"Found it a little bit coming in thank  goodness, last five or six holes, I hit the ball better. But yeah, ball-striking was a little dodgy out there today."

Impressed by Stadler's performance, McDowell said: "I said to Martin Kaymer, it was nearly as good as him at Pinehurst  No. 2 but not quite. Great display of golf... He keeps playing that, he's going to  be tough to catch.

"But I feel like three-under par is not a bad sort  of return for the last two days, and if I can go low  tomorrow and get myself back in it, who knows."

No hole-in-car BMW reward for Damien McGrane (IRL) but a birdie on 16 helped him card a two under 69. Picture: David Lloyd / www.golffile.ie

It was a good day also for Damien McGrane, who needs a big finish somewhere to easy his worries about his card. He's been around long enough to know that he just has to be patient and the results will come and a birdie-par-birdie finish for a 69 was pleasing, as he told European Tour Radio's Nick Dye: 

McGrane is tied for 11th on two under par with Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin just a shot further back after an impressive 68 featuring just one bogey.

Like McGrane, Maybin also needs a good week and having played well in the Irish Open at Fota Island, where he finished 14th, a good week in Paris will do wonders for his confidence.

The rest of the nine-strong Irish contingent missed the cut with Pádraig Harrington taking a 35 putts in a two over 73 to miss the cut for the eighth time in 17 starts this season on five over.

Harrington finished two shots outside the three over par cut mark with Peter Lawrie (77) on seven over, Simon Thornton (74) nine over, David Higgins (76) 13 over and Kevin Phelan (80) 14 over.

As for the leader, Stadler, he could have been even further clear had he not shanked a wedge into deep rough at the ninth and made a double bogey seven.

The burly American still extended his lead to three shots over leading home hope Riu, who delighted the large galleries with a round of 67 which featured five birdies, whilst Marcel Siem is two shots back on five under par after the German battled his way to a round of 72.

“I’ve putted brilliantly for the first couple days," Stadler said. "I got a little sloppy on my final nine today, but other than that, I stroked the ball very well. I had a lot of chances and rolled in a lot of nice putts.

“It’s definitely a ball striker’s golf course. It has a lot of good, really definitive lines off the tees, which really shapes the shots for you. I enjoy holes that shape themselves for you.

“Here they present themselves and say: here is what you need to do, go ahead and do it. It’s just a really good golf course, the greens are great, and I’m certainly enjoying it so far.”

Alstom Open de France — after 36 holes

132 K Stadler (USA) 64 68,

135 V Riu  (Fra) 68 67,

137 M Siem  (Ger) 65 72,

139 G McDowell  (Nir) 70 69, S Jamieson  (Sco) 69 70, M Hoey  (Nir) 73 66, S Gallacher (Sco) 66 73, T Jaidee (Tha) 70 69, J Donaldson (Wal) 67 72, M Foster (Eng) 69 70,

140 O Fisher  (Eng) 69 71, M Kaymer (Ger) 72 68, R Fisher (Eng) 72 68, B Wiesberger  (Aut) 70 70, F Aguilar (Chi) 67 73, D McGrane (Irl) 71 69,

141 G Maybin (Nir) 73 68, M Baldwin (Eng) 70 71, S Webster (Eng) 73 68, J Hansen  (Den) 72 69, A Levy (Fra) 69 72, E Goya (Arg) 75 66, M Manassero (Ita) 68 73,

142 G Stal  (Fra) 74 68, R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 70 72, F Molinari (Ita) 70 72, R Karlsson (Swe) 73 69, S Kapur (Ind) 73 69, A Hansen (Den) 71 71, R Kakko  (Fin) 68 74, M Warren (Sco) 69 73, D Lynn (Eng) 73 69, J Luiten (Ned) 73 69, T Linard (Fra) 72 70,

143 A McArthur  (Sco) 76 67, M Fitzpatrick  (Eng) 69 74, D Bobrowski (Fra) 73 70, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 77 66, M Lundberg (Swe) 75 68, F Zanotti (Par) 73 70, L Slattery (Eng) 70 73, M Nixon (Eng) 71 72,

144 D Howell (Eng) 72 72, V Dubuisson  (Fra) 76 68, A Gee  (Eng) 72 72, P Waring  (Eng) 71 73, S Hansen (Den) 74 70, N Colsaerts  (Bel) 72 72, K Broberg (Swe) 70 74, J Knutzon (USA) 72 72, M Korhonen (Fin) 72 72, E De La Riva  (Esp) 73 71, S Dyson  (Eng) 73 71, J Heath  (Eng) 71 73, M Ford (Eng) 70 74, P Sjöland (Swe) 73 71, A Sullivan (Eng) 73 71,

145 J Quesne  (Fra) 74 71, D Huizing (Ned) 72 73, W Ormsby (Aus) 70 75, S Kjeldsen (Den) 72 73, G Bourdy (Fra) 73 72, M Carlsson  (Swe) 73 72, R Sterne  (RSA) 70 75, E Molinari  (Ita) 70 75, M Kieffer (Ger) 72 73, R Santos  (Por) 71 74, A Kaleka  (Fra) 72 73, J Brun (am) (Fra) 73 72,


146 E Grillo (Arg) 70 76, R Wattel  (Fra) 76 70, A Otaegui  (Esp) 75 71, G Havret  (Fra) 72 74, B Paolini (USA) 72 74, S Wakefield (Eng) 74 72, S Kim (Kor) 74 72, B Koepka  (USA) 73 73, J Stalter (Fra) 72 74, A Cañizares  (Esp) 77 69, J Singh (Ind) 74 72, J Campillo (Esp) 71 75,

147 R Jacquelin (Fra) 75 72, P Harrington (Irl) 74 73, A Quiros  (Esp) 72 75, C Arendell (USA) 73 74, J Dantorp (Swe) 72 75,

148 M Madsen  (Den) 74 74, A Wall (Eng) 72 76, C Doak (Sco) 71 77, C Lee (Sco) 72 76, J Walters (RSA) 73 75, R Green (Aus) 72 76, R Marguery (Fra) 70 78, E Pepperell (Eng) 71 77, R Gonzalez (Arg) 71 77, G Bhullar (Ind) 75 73, A Pavan (Ita) 75 73, R Rock (Eng) 74 74,

149 J Lando Casanova  (Fra) 74 75, G Coetzee (RSA) 76 73, C Del Moral (Esp) 75 74, R Derksen (Ned) 74 75, A Hartø  (Den) 73 76, J Carlsson (Swe) 76 73, D Horsey (Eng) 70 79, J Parry (Eng) 74 75, P Lawrie (Irl) 72 77, L Bjerregaard  (Den) 75 74,

150 R Davies (Wal) 76 74, J Gallagher  (Sco) 75 75, F Calmels  (Fra) 73 77, D Fichardt (RSA) 73 77, S Manley (Wal) 75 75, T Björn (Den) 76 74, M Crespi  (Ita) 70 80,

151 T Hatton (Eng) 75 76, L Weber (Fra) 76 75, D Drysdale (Sco) 73 78, N Fasth (Swe) 71 80, A Snobeck  (Fra) 73 78, R Bland (Eng) 75 76, J Guerrier  (Fra) 78 73, S Thornton (Irl) 77 74, J Morrison  (Eng) 74 77,

152 A Forsyth (Sco) 71 81, J Doherty  (Sco) 76 76, G Storm  (Eng) 75 77,

153 P Dwyer (Eng) 78 75, J Lima  (Por) 75 78, D Brooks (Eng) 81 72, M Tullo (Chi) 74 79, T Levet (Fra) 76 77, N Elvira  (Esp) 77 76,

154 S Walker (Eng) 72 82, O Henningsson  (Swe) 75 79, B Chapellan (Fra) 77 77, G Porteous (Eng) 72 82, T Perrot (am) (Fra) 78 76,

155 D Higgins (Irl) 79 76, E Dubois (Fra) 80 75, J Hahn (USA) 82 73, M Lorenzo-Vera  (Fra) 79 76, J Kruger (RSA) 79 76,

156 A Saddier (Fra) 78 78, K Phelan (Irl) 76 80, D Im (USA) 75 81,

157 A Grenier  (Fra) 79 78, L Bem (am) (Fra) 79 78,

159 J Jeong (Kor) 79 80,

166 P Gal  (Cze) 82 84,

** T Aiken (RSA) 79 WD, T Pieters  (Bel) 75 DQ, J Olazábal (Esp) 73 RT, R Ramsay  (Sco) 75 RT, S Khan (Eng) 80 WD, T Lewis (Eng) RT  0,