Kevin Stadler to the fore on Independence Day

Defending champion Graeme McDowell praises performance of American golfer

American Kevin Stadler celebrated Independence Day by claiming a three-shot lead in the Alstom Open de France, despite a dreaded shank on the final hole of his second round on Friday.

Stadler carded a flawless opening 64 at Le Golf National and did not drop his first shot of the tournament until his 32nd hole at the 2018 Ryder Cup venue on the outskirts of Paris.

But after bouncing back in style with birdies on the next two holes, the world number 62 shanked his approach to the par-five ninth – his final hole – into heavy rough to run up a double-bogey seven.

“I just tried to get a little too much out of it,” Stadler, who had to settle for a 68, said Stadler. “I didn’t have the best of lies and had to hit the shot perfectly. I got a little too steep on it and it came off the hosel and into the deep stuff.


“It was not exactly how I planned to finish the day but overall it was another good day so it’s all good. I putted brilliantly the first couple of days. I got a little sloppy on my final nine today but other than that struck the ball very well as well, had a lot of chances and rolled in a lot of nice putts.”

Asked if he felt that a score of 10 under par had been on the cards, Stadler added: “Absolutely not, especially not through two days. I’d be very excited and, in fact, I’d probably still take it at the end of the week.”

“It’s definitely a ball-striker’s golf course. It has a lot of good, really definitive lines off the tees, really shapes the shots for you. It presents itself and says, ‘Here is what you need to do, go ahead and do it,’ so you don’t have to be overly creative.

“It’s just a really good golf course, the greens are great and I am certainly enjoying it so far.”

Stadler won his maiden PGA Tour title in February and was half of the first father-son pairing to play in the same Masters in April with his father Craig, the 1982 champion.

The 34-year-old finished joint eighth at Augusta but that has been his only top-10 since winning in Phoenix and he added: “It’s been a little rotten the last couple of months but it’s starting to show some signs of form again and I’ve hit plenty of good shots the last couple of days.

“I had a nice week off last week and I pretty much just completely got away from it, didn’t really touch a club other than one day and got over here and just kind of recharged the batteries a little bit.

“The swing flaws kind of disappear when you don’t touch a club too often and I felt comfortable from the get-go once I got here. Hopefully I can do more of the same at the weekend, the putter keeps co-operating and I am looking forward to the last couple of days.”

Stadler's nearest challenger is Parisian Victor Riu, whose only bogey in a round of 67 came on the 18th, with 2012 winner Marcel Siem two shots further back on five under after a 72.

Riu has missed the cut in five of his last six events but some hard work with his coach and a touch of local knowledge paid off for the 29-year-old.

“I’m attached to (the nearby) St Nom La Breteche but most of time I come here because the course is so good,” Riu said. “I used to play here most of the time I’m in Paris. I didn’t feel very good in my game but my coach arrived here on Monday. We are training very hard and I feel much, much better.”

Defending champion Graeme McDowell added a 69 to his opening 70 to finish three under par – good enough for a share of fourth place with six other players including fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey (66) – and was quick to acknowledge Stadler's superb performance.

"I said to (US Open champion) Martin Kaymer it was nearly as good as his at Pinehurst, but not quite," said McDowell, whose winning total 12 months ago was nine under. "It's a great display of golf.

“It’s Kevin’s type of golf course and if he keeps playing like that he’s going to be tough to catch, but I feel like three under is not a bad return for the last two days and if I can go low tomorrow and get myself back into it, who knows?”

Playing partner Kaymer, who won his second Major title by eight shots last month, was a shot behind McDowell on two under after carding a 68 containing six birdies and three bogeys.

Hoey carded five birdies in six holes on the back nine after starting from the 10th hole in his second round. Damien McGrane birdied two of his final three holes to move to two under after a 69, while Gareth Maybin will also be around for the weekend after a three-under 68 left him on one under.

Pádraig Harrington bogeyed his two closing holes, the eighth and ninth, to card a 73 that saw him miss the cut by two shots.

Peter Lawrie (77), Simon Thornton (74), David Higgins (76) and Kevin Phelan (80) all missed the cut comfortably.