Thomas Pieters aiming to win Real Czech Masters for second time

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Pieters aiming to win Real Czech Masters for second time

Euro Tour

Thomas Pieters aiming to win Real Czech Masters for second time

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Thomas Pieters is looking to double up in the Czech Republic after surging into the 54-hole lead in the $1.8 million D+D Real Czech Masters.

The 27-year-old Belgian has a good history in this tournament. He won here in 2015, his first of three European Tour wins.

Pieters holds a one shot lead over Spain’s Adri Arnaus thanks to a 6-under-par 66 that moved him to 16 under. Thirty-six hole leader Edoardo Molinari shares third place with Chile’s Hugo Leon and Swedes Robert Karlsson and Rikard Karlberg.

University of Illinois graduate Pieters built his score around a front nine 30, 6 under. The highlight of the front side was a near albatross at the par-5, ninth hole. Pieters, winner of the 2013 NCAA Division 1 individual title, nearly holed out with his 6-iron approach shot.

“I think the key to that front nine was the driving,” Pieters said. “I hit it really far and straight so that was presenting a lot of birdie opportunities and a lot of short clubs into the holes. To convert the putt on nine after a wonderful six iron in was great. It’s the closest I’ve come to a two on a par five.

“I struggled a bit on the back nine. I stayed patient though and got a nice birdie to finish.

“Like I said yesterday, I’m still learning all the time. I’m just trying to do the same things now. If I keep driving it well, I’ll keep giving myself plenty of chances and then hopefully a couple of putts can drop.”

Besides earning his first European Tour victory in the Czech Republic four years ago, he finished runner up in 2016, the same year he made his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine. The Belgian won four points out of a five on his debut, but has struggled to come close to that form ever since. His last victory came in the 2016 Made In Denmark.

Molinari returned a 2-under 70 after back to back 66s. The 2010 Ryder Cup player is  seeking his fourth European Tour victory, and first since the 2017 Trophee Hassan II.

“I started well on the front nine like I have done on the other days, and then on the back nine I was a bit off with some of my yardages,” Molinari said. “Hopefully my bad day is behind me now and I can go low tomorrow.

“I’d rather be leading, when you can afford a couple of mistakes. But then again when you’re out in front of the leaders and you get it going you might apply some extra pressure on then so it can work either way. I just need to play good golf and see what happens.”

Forty-nine year old Karlsson is an 11-time European Tour winner, but has not won since 2010. He served as vice-captain to Thomas Bjorn in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory over the the United States in France last year.

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