Australia's Joanne Mills opened a one shot lead in the rain-affected Ladies Austrian Open today after firing a two under par 70 in the second round at Steiermarkischer Murhof Golf Club. Mills leads the 54-hole event with a seven under par 137 aggregate, while a group of five players are tied second place, including fellow-Australian Anne-Marie Knight and Ana Belen Sanchez of Spain who shared the honours for the day's lowest with a pair of five under par 67's.
With the storm clouds gathering over the picturesque Austrian layout, Mills completed her round with seconds to spare before the heavens opened and the tournament director was forced to call a halt in play due to lightening. After an hour's delay the remaining six groups were able to complete their second rounds.
Mills' 70 included an eagle and three birdies as she went out in three under par and returned one over the card. Her eagle came at the par five ninth when she fired a five wood to 35-feet before rolling in the putt.
"I played the front nine really well, but the back half was very topsy-turvy, especially between 14 and 16" said Mills, joint eighth in this event last season.
"My game's been fairly consistent this year and I've made very cut, but I just can't seem to string four good rounds together, though in this case three rounds will do. I've brought the winner in a couple of times already this season, but would now like to win one myself.
"It's been a while since I led going into the final round, and I'm sure I'll be a little nervous tomorrow. But I'm putting well so I'll just aim to hit all the greens and hopefully make a difference with my putter."
Knight, winner of the 1999 German Open, moved into contention after finishing with an eagle at the ninth for a flawless 67, while Sanchez matched the Australian's score thanks to six birdies and a solitary bogey at the 15th where she three-putted.
"I've not been playing well this year," said Sanchez. "Everything in my game has been a problem. But I had some good luck on the greens today and I enjoy the course because it allows me to use my three wood off the tee - I've been spraying my drives all over the place recently."
Of the three others tied for second, most eyes Sunday will be focused on France's Patricia Meunier Lebouc, who completed her 68 before the rain began to fall.
Lebouc has been in excellent form recently, winning her own national open in Arras at the start of the month before finishing joint fifth in Germany last weekend.
"I'm just trying to keep it going at the moment because my game is good and my mind is good," said Lebouc, who has her husband and fellow professional Antoine carrying her bag.
"Antoine is caddying for me again this week and has been a great help. We're also managing to put in some really good work on the range. I enjoy having here."
In many respects, Antoine Lebouc's misfortune has proven to be Lebouc's fortune. The Challenge Tour player had hoped to play The Open qualifying this weekend but lost the opportunity when his original application arrived late owing to a mix-up with the couriers.
"Antoine is very disappointed and so I feel I have to play well this week to make up for it," added Lebouc. "But I like this course and feel I can make another good score tomorrow. It's important to take full advantage of the par fives. This isn't target golf. You can make a good score but you have to be very strong."
The 27-year-old from Paris, who is in the hunt for her fifth European title, currently lies 14th on the Evian moneylist and ninth in the Solheim rankings.
"It's too soon to think about The Solheim Cup," continued Lebouc. "I first have to think about every shot and every round and if that's good enough to make the team then I'll be very happy. But it's no good thinking too far ahead.
"I enjoyed matchplay as an amateur and wished we played more as professionals. If I play The Solheim Cup then I'll be quite confident since my game will have been strong enough to make the team. It's important to arrive with a strong game."
Having opened her account with a 20-foot birdie at the first, Lebouc went on to fire another six birdies. Taylor remains in contention for her first European victory thanks to a two under 70 consisting of four birdies and a pair of bogeys.
"I'm just trying to enjoy it a little more," said the 29-year-old from Clitheroe in Lancashire. "Missing the cut last weekend could have been a good thing in the long run. Perhaps I needed the rest."
Overnight leader Elisabeth Esterl of Germany struggled to a three over par 75 and dropped back into a share of 14th place, while defending champion Marina Arruti of Spain failed to avoid the weekend axe which came at four over par.