Two years ago Tom Gillis was on the brink of losing his Tour card when he birdied the last hole of the Belgacom Open to finish tied 39th and keep his card by just £200. It was a putt that saved his European Tour career and now, two years on, Gillis is back in Belgium and leading at the halfway stage.
A second round of 64, seven under par, took the American to 11 under, a shot clear of Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and three clear of Lee Westwood, Roger Wessels, Gary Evans and Marc Farry.
Each year Gillis seems to find himself battling for a place in the top 115 as the season nears it’s conclusion and 2000 has been no exception. In 106th place in the Volvo Order of Merit he looks safe for another season on the European Tour but the concerns are still there. When he missed the cut in the BMW International Open and Canon European Masters the old feelings from 1998 came flooding back. But instead of slogging it out with in the Trophee Lancome, Gillis walked away, took himself fishing for a week and has come back refreshed and ready for a final push.
“I was leaking oil again,” he said. “I felt the same feelings, the same pressure as two years ago. Rather than wait for the Lancome I decided to go home. I was not right in my head. So I put my boat on the back of my truck and drove north to Michigan. Didn’t know where I was going to go - just had to get away. Went to a place called Garland Resort where a friend of mine is pro. They have four golf courses and a bunch of lakes. I caught 11 pike in two days, fished every morning and practised every afternoon. When I drove out on Saturday I was thinking right again.”
Gillis’ round was made on his back nine, the front nine on the course, when he picked up five birdies in six holes to come home in 29.
Harrington, out of sorts with his game of late, got off to a flier with three birdies in the first three holes, Two dropped shots on the outward half after three putting twice brought him back to seven under, but the Irishman rallied to pick up another three birdies coming home for a round of 67, four under par.
He said: “I hit it in the rough a lot off the tee. I didn’t give myself enough opportunities to hit good close iron shots so I am pleased with the score I had. I took the opportunities in general. I’m very happy to be where I am. Can’t say I am swinging it great so it is good to be there.”
Last week Wessels led after the first round of the Trophee Lancome after a 63 only to follow it with an 81 to miss the cut. But today he put the memory of last Friday behind him by picking up seven birdies in the first 12 holes on his way to a 64.
“It was a good week to have a recovery,” he said. “Very happy from that point of view. More so than anything else. I was very disappointed from Friday. It’s nice to come back and get myself in the same position.”
Westwood added a 69 to his opening 65 to stay in the hunt for his fifth European Tour title of the year and with Darren Clarke missing the cut after a disappointing 73, Westwood has a very real chance of regaining pole position on the Volvo Order of Merit.
Alongside Westwood and Wessels is Evans, a few tips from TV pundit Ewen Murray helping him through a bad run of form and round in 66, and Frenchman Marc Farry.
A total of 83 players made the cut on level par and better, the largest field for the weekend on the European Tour this season.