Matt Wallace’s name looks out of place at the top of the leaderboard in a $7 million tournament, but then he’s not had much time to let people get acquainted with his game.
Wallace’s rise to fame has been nothing short of meteoric.
The 27-year-old shares the 36-hole lead in the Italian Open with Marcus Fraser. They are on 13 under, two shots ahead of Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand.
Fraser returned a 9-under-par 62, while Wallace went around Golf Club Milano in 65 blows to continue the season of his life.
Wallace was basically an unknown quantity at the start of this year. He was a Challenge Tour player hoping to gain his main tour card for 2018. Then he won the Portuguese Open in May, an event co-sanctioned between the main European Tour and Challenge Tour (money counts on both circuits).
Wallace graduated to the European Tour and earned a one-year exemption, which means he doesn’t have to worry about his tour status for next year. No wonder he seems to be playing without pressure. He’s recorded three top-10 finishes since that victory.
There didn’t seem to be too much pressure on his shoulders during the second round in Monza. Four birdies, an eagle and no birdies was proof of that.
“Started off great, made two birdies out of the blocks and then struggled in the middle section where I just couldn’t really get it close enough to the hole and putts were just rolling by the edges,” Wallace said. “Managed to stay patient and got the eagle at nine.”
Consecutive birdies at the 14th and 15th holes took Wallace into a tie for the lead.
“Played some lovely shots on the back nine but just didn’t hole the putts. Hopefully I can carry that form into the weekend.
“Scoring-wise I probably could be better. I’ve hit it great off the tee and hit some really good shots into the greens. If I can hole a few more putts I could make a special number.”
Fraser is seeking his fourth European Tour win. The 39-year-old will have a chance of achieving that if he can continue his second-round form.
“I haven’t been able to see a 62 all year to be honest,” Fraser said. “It’s felt like it’s been progressing, but I haven’t felt that comfortable for a long time with my game. Felt like I really putted well and scrambled well, but today I took it to a new level with the putter.
“Made birdie on six, then on eight and nine and got a bit of momentum through 10, 11, 12. You know there are birdies out there but you’ve still got to go and do it.
“I’ve felt over the last few weeks that I’ve got off to good starts in my round but then thrown it away. It feels like it is there somewhere, and today was a bit of reassurance.”