Marcus Kinhult produced a brilliant performance to open up a two-shot lead heading into day three of the HNA Open de France in Paris.
Le Golf National will play host to the Ryder Cup in September and windy conditions and punishing rough meant that a field containing world No 2 Justin Thomas and world No 5 Jon Rahm were handed a tough test over the first two days.
Thomas and Rahm produced back-to-back under par rounds to ensure they were well in contention heading into the weekend but it was Kinhult who stole the show, carding a 65 to get to six under and lead the way by two shots from England’s Chris Wood.
The 21-year-old Swede produced a flawless front nine, adding an eagle on the par five third to birdies on the second, fourth, seventh and ninth as he turned in 30. He made bogeys on the 13th and 17th but each time bounced back with a gain to keep his nose in front.
“It feels good, it feels really good,” he told www.europeantour.com. “I got off to a great start and played well from there. The wind picked up a little bit on the back nine, the last four or five holes or so, but happy overall.
“Saturday is going to be a big day and hopefully Sunday as well. It’s a position I have never been in before so we’ll see.”
Wood is attempting to make his second consecutive European Ryder Cup team and some course form will do his chances no harm, as he recovered from bogeys on the tenth and 11th with birdies on the 14th, 15th, 18th, second and ninth.
Rahm carded a 69 to sit at three under alongside Welshman Bradley Dredge, a shot clear of Thomas, Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, local favourite Gregory Havret and American Julian Suri.
English pair Tyrrell Hatton and Jordan Smith, Ireland’s Paul Dunne and Scotland’s Russell Knox, pictured, were five shots off the lead.
Stephen Gallacher was the only other Scot to make the cut as he finished the day at three over par.
Meanwhile, French golf fans have shown their support for the Ryder Cup in record numbers.
To date almost half of the 51,000 daily tickets purchased (43 per cent) for Le Golf National have gone to French fans, a number which comfortably surpasses the 37 per cent of 45,000 per day which went to Scottish golf fans at Gleneagles in 2014, the last time the Ryder Cup was held on European soil.
Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, said: “The support we have had from everyone in France; the Government, the French Golf Federation and the fans has been superb, and these numbers bear that out. I am aware there has been recent speculation in various quarters that the French public will not support the event, but this is simply speaking without the facts.
“On the surface I can understand why this might look like an attractive story for the media apart from one key point – it isn’t true. We have tremendous plans to make the 2018 Ryder Cup the best in history and we look forward to welcoming the tens of thousands of French fans to witness it, along with spectators from across the world.”