At world No. 45, Robert MacIntyre entered the 2021 Betfred British Masters as the top-ranked player in the field. And after two rounds of play at The Belfry, the Scotsman was where many expected him to be: atop the leaderboard alongside compatriot Calum Hill and Englishman Richard Bland.
MacIntyre bookended a five-birdie start with a two-birdie close to post 66 and reach 7-under par.
“I was in free flow,” said MacIntyre of his hot start. “I hit a couple close but the putter was working. For me it felt beautiful.
“That could have been a crazy score. I still missed quite a few chances but that’s golf. If I can shoot 66-66 at the weekend playing like that you would take that.
“It’s just good to see the work that we’re putting in on the putting continuing to perform. I started working with Graeme (Leslie) in the middle of last year and I was getting into bad habits, he just keeps drilling it into me: ‘just trust what you’re doing’.
“Everything that we’ve done is pretty simple, he just gives me basic things to work on and I trust it.”
Hill, meanwhile, held the lead outright until a final-hole bogey dropped him back to the 7-under group.
“It was alright, not too bad,” said the 26-year old, who is in search of his maiden Tour win in what is his second official season. “I think the weather was more favorable than it could’ve been, so not too bad.
“It’s been great. I’ve had a couple of chip-ins from the first two rounds already. I keep knocking it close and not putting too much stress on my putter when I need to get up and down, so it’s been really good.
“I didn’t quite have the long game dialed in today, so I had a few lag putts that I had to get up and not too many close that were very close.
“But all in all it wasn’t too bad. I’m striving for a very good weekend and finish on top but we’ll see what we can do.”
Bland is also looking for career victory No. 1 but for the 48-year old it’s been a much longer journey. The Englishman, who’s opened with two rounds of bogey-free golf (68-69), is playing in his 478th European Tour event, and admitted afterwards that he has an eye on the Champions Tour but that a win at the iconic event would mean “everything”.
“Yeah, I’m already sort of looking ahead, you know, I can go to the Champions Tour – qualifying the end of next year which is what I plan to do,” said Bland, who will be eligible for the U.S. Champions Tour on Feb. 3, 2023.
“So yeah, it’s a big incentive for me this year to play well, so I can play again on the European Tour next year and stay competitive – so I can go straight into that and hopefully try and get my playing rights out there. That’s kind of like my plan.
“And obviously, of course, we’re all here to win and if I could do that – you know it’s such an iconic event at the British Masters it would be like everything coming together.
“So yeah I’m going to go out there and if I can keep playing the way I have been playing and the speed improves on the greens a little bit more – hopefully come Sunday afternoon I should be there or thereabouts.
Bland’s countryman, Eddie Pepperell – the 2018 British Masters winner, shot 68 to join Frenchman Julien Guerrier (66) and South African Justin Harding (69) at 6 under, one shot clear of another Frenchman in Matthieu Pavon (71).
Overnight leader Mattias Schwab struggled to a 75 to fall back to T16 on 3 under.
2021 Betfred British Masters
Top-5 Leaders: Round 2
Pos-Player-To Par-(Rd 2)
1. Robert MacIntyre -7 (-6)
1. Calum Hill -7 (-2)
1. Richard Bland -7 (-3)
4. Julien Guerrier -6 (-6)
4. Eddie Pepperell -6 (-4)
4. Justin Harding -6 (-3)
Material from the European Tour Communications was used to compile this report.