MADEIRA, Portugal -- Former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson leads a European Tour event for the first time since November 2008 after shooting a 7-under-par 65 in the second round of the Madeira Islands Open on Friday.
The Englishman, who lost his European Tour card after finishing 130th in The Race to Dubai last year, showed signs that he is rediscovering his best form, having not dropped a shot in two rounds at Santo da Serra. He leads by one over Sweden's Magnus A. Carlsson and Joakim Lagergren, who both had two rounds of 66, and England’s Andy Sullivan, who shone with a 64.
MADEIRA ISLANDS OPEN
This week marks the 20th staging of the Madeira Islands Open, one of the smallest events on the European Tour but also one of the most scenically spectacular.
Wilson has made eight appearances so far this season -- six as a sponsor’s invitation -- but has made only about $30,000, so he is particularly pleased to be leading the way as he attempts to win his first European Tour title. The last time he was in the lead on the European Tour was after 54 holes of the 2008 Hong Kong Open.
“I played nicely,” said the 31-year-old, who was on the European Team at the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla. “The fact I haven’t had a bogey for two rounds shows I’m playing solidly and sensibly.
“I actually feel like I left a few out there today. I missed three putts from inside six feet. But I made a couple of really good par saves -- not from bad shots, just because the course is tricky.
“There’s a long way to go and the scoring will carry on being low, but I’ll keep pushing on trying to make birdies," he added. "There will inevitably be some mistakes at the weekend but it’s just a question of trying to limit them. You’ve got to be patient.
“The course is playing very differently from how it was yesterday. It’s a lot softer today and the ball is stopping very quickly on the greens, which wasn’t the case yesterday. It was easier hitting into the greens today.”
Wilson, who has finished runner-up nine times in his European Tour career, credited a technical alteration for his better form.
“I changed the loft in my putter and it is working," he explained. "The less I think about the set-up the better, and if you are standing over putts and know they are rolling well, it makes a big difference.”
Sullivan, a Walker Cup player in 2011, also had a bogey-free day and attributed his superb round, which featured six birdies and an eagle, to an improved putting technique.
"It's just great to see the ball rolling into the hole," said the 24-year-old. "It makes a nice change. I saw (putting coach) Phil Kenyon last Friday and we've changed a few things technique-wise, and it seems to be paying off.
"I'm hitting the ball nicely too. It's the first time I've been in this position so I'm just going to take it as it comes and try and enjoy it. The only thing I can do is keep doing what I've been doing, as it's worked so far.
"I'd heard a lot about this event from the other guys -- about how bad the weather can be and the delays -- but it's been excellent so far and I'm enjoying it."
Lagergren is another player who is new to the European Tour, and the 20-year-old Q-School graduate is delighted with the way he is playing.
“My ball striking is the best aspect of my game this week,” said the rookie, whose stepfather is Ola Eliasson, the former European Tour player. “I played really badly in the final round in Seville last week so it is nice to be playing better.
“I hit lots of greens in regulation today and I just played solidly all round. It’s the first time I’ve played this course. It’s a funny course -- very slopey, but that’s not a negative.
“I’ve made four cuts in a row coming here so I’m feeling very confident," he said. "I’m really enjoying my first year on Tour and the other guys are looking after me.”
Ricardo Santos, a graduate from the 2011 Challenge Tour, is the leading Portuguese player at 9 under, while Nuno Henriques delighted the home crowds with an albatross at the par-5 11th, holing his second shot with a 4-iron.