Brandon Stone will take a two-stroke lead into the weekend of the Swiss Challenge at Golf Saint Apollinaire in Folgensbourg, France, after carding a bogey-free five under par 66 on Friday.
The South African birdied the first, fifth and ninth holes to turn in three under par, before an eagle at the par five 12th saw him jump into the outright lead and reach 11-under-par for the week, two clear of overnight leader Sam Bairstow, Italian Lorenzo Scalise and American Julian Suri.
The 30-year-old, a winner on the Challenge Tour in 2021 and a three-time winner on the DP World Tour, was pleased with all aspects of his game as inclement weather threatened to affect the final stages of his round.
“I obviously played quite nicely as the score would suggest, but the conditions got a little bit trickier those last three or four holes,” he said. “We were greeted with some rain and some heavy winds, so overall a bogey-free five under, I’m very happy.
“It’s not very often that you’re 11 under par, and there’s something not working. I feel like I’ve been very composed, hitting it beautifully, and holed a few nice putts including the one for eagle.
“I played very calm golf, something I hope to replicate over the weekend, but if I can keep doing what I’m doing it should hold me in good stead.
“There are some tricky spots on this golf course, but if you’re doing well off the tee you’re obviously going to limit the crucial errors you can make. In saying that, the rain we were greeted with on 17 was brutal. I’m glad I didn’t have four or five holes to play in that. I’m very happy to be in at 11-under.”
Stone is currently 13th in the Road to Mallorca Rankings, with the Swiss Challenge one of only four events remaining on the 2023 schedule. By finishing in the top 20 after the season-ending Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final, Stone would return to Europe’s top tier, something he’s excited by the prospect of.
“Whether I finish 20th this week or first, as long as I’m back on the DP World Tour next year I’ll be a very happy man,” he added. “If I’m honest, I’m just happy I’m playing better golf.
“After last year I wasn’t really certain what was going to happen. I changed strategy with my game, got a new coach, and my goal for 2023 was just to play better golf. To stand here, in the last portion of September, I feel like my game is really coming together.
“I feel like I’m back to where I should be with regards to my control of emotions and my golf ball.”
Five players share fifth place, three strokes off the lead on eight-under-par, including Matteo Manassero and Filippo Celli from Italy, German Velten Meyer, Sweden’s Adam Blomme and Finn Oliver Lindell.
Martin Vorster carded a three-under-par 69 to move to four-under and a share of 38th.
Darren Fichardt had a one-under to move to two-under but missed the cut in a share of 62nd. Keenan Davidse, Jacques Kruyswijk, Casey Jarvis and Jaco Prinsloo all missed the cut too.