PETER Whiteford leapt up the leaderboard but the tartan trio in contention for European Tour cards all suffered drops in the projected rankings after the second round of the Challenge Tour Grand Final in Oman.
Tenth and 11th respectively in the battle to finish in the top 15 on the second-tier circuit’s money-list at the start of the event, Andrew McArthur and Jamie McLeary have dropped to 13th and 15th at the halfway stage at Almouj Golf in Muscat.
They’re now under real pressure to hang on to card-winning positions, with Scott Henry’s return to the top 15 after an opening 69 having proved brief as he slipped back to 20th following the second circuit on a baking hot day in the Middle East.
Whiteford, the last man into the 45-strong field, needs to win the season-ending tournament to regain the main Tour card he lost 12 months ago. It’s a tall order, but the 35-year-old Fifer leapt 18 spots to joint-13th after a five-under 67 to sit on four-under.
“That was a lot better,” said Whiteford, who has his wife, Gabby, caddying for him in the £46,000 event.
“The 12th got me again – I hit it in the ocean there for the second day in a row and it’s shocking to have two 6s there as it’s a gimme 4.
“But I played nicely for the majority of the day and something clicked around the 13th as it felt easy for the remainder of the round.”
The fact Whiteford only managed to jump five spots to 40th on the projected rankings is an indication of the task that still lies ahead of him.
“I need at least a couple more 67s as I need to finish first, maybe second,” he added. “But I’d have bitten your hand off for that as yesterday wasn’t really good at all and I did a lot of work on the range.”
After the good day’s work, Whiteford promised his wife a slap up meal – after they’d ended up in a burger joint on Wednesday night.
“We got lost in the mall and Burger King was a last resort,” revealed a smiling Whiteford. “But we’ll have a nice meal tonight, I promise!”
Henry also arrived at the halfway point sitting on four-under after he signed for a second-round 71.
“My opening tee shot was a shocker - in fact, it was probably my worst swing of the year,” said the 28-year-old taking an iron for safety only to hit into a bush.
“I had to hack out back on to the fairway, was left with a 2-iron for my third and made a good 5 in the end,” he added.
“I didn’t play anywhere near as good today as yesterday but you are going to have that over 72 holes and hopefully today will be my only day when I’m not quite on it.”
Still one-over with eight holes to play, the former amateur ace dug deep to break par for the second day running.
“Jeezo, I fought hard out there,” added Henry. “I holed a few putts from six to seven feet to keep my round going.
“My putting used to be the weakest part of my game but now it’s the strongest. It used to be my Achilles’ Heel but I’ve managed to switch that around.
“In fact, if it wasn’t for my putting this year I’d have been nowhere near playing here.”
After matching Henry’s second-round score to sit joint-17th on three-under, George Murray revealed the step he’d been forced to take to get better results on the greens.
“I’m using the same arm-lock method as Matt Kuchar,” said the Fifer. “I changed to it in August after I’d won nothing until then and it helped me for a while. But I’ll be back on the short putter soon hopefully.”
Another player needing to win to get back on the main circuit without a visit to the Qualifying School next month, Murray added: “I think I’ll need to be a lot more aggressive tomorrow and give it a go.”
McArthur and McLeary are sitting 38th and 43rd respectively in the 45-man field after they carded matching 71s.
“I played a lot better today,” said McArthur, who is nursing an ankle injury he sustained slipping off a step earlier in the week.
“Every day it is going to get better, according to the physio, so I will keep battling away,” added the Glaswegian.
“Hopefully two sub-par rounds can get the job done. I’ll keep pottering away at it and hopefully I can hole a few in the final two rounds.”
McLeary, who won in Belgium earlier in the year, echoed that sentiment after another frustrating day on the greens.
“I’m not getting any momentum going due to not holing putts but all the damage was done in the first round,” said the 34-year-old of his opening 78.
“It’s almost out of my hands now, but the way I’m playing I can honestly see me throwing in a six-under or something similar.
“I really feel I can do that but I need to see one or two putts dropping early on in a round.”
Having tacked a 67 on to his opening 66, Dane Joachim B Hansen still leads by one from the dangerous Portuguese player, Ricardo Gouveia.
Leading the money-list, Gouveia’s only dropped shot in two days came at the 17th, which he bounced from with a birdie from ten feet at the last.