Paul McGinley likes nothing better than a good dogfight and the tougher the odds, the better he performs.
Exactly 124 days after undergoing surgery on what little remains of his left knee, the 43-year old Dubliner proved that he is not quite ready to dedicate himself to his growing business interests and hang up his spikes.
Despite missing the cut on his comeback in Morocco last week, the three-time Ryder Cup winner was buoyed by the quality of his ball-striking in the Hassan II Trophy and he built on an excellent first round 68 in the Open de Andalucia by firing a four under par 66 on Friday and see his name on a leaderboard once more.
At six under par, he is in a five-way tie for ninth and four shots adrift of the in-form South African Louis Oosthuizen and the English rookie Sam Hutsby, who carded superb 63s to lead by two shots from defending champion Soren Kjeldsen
Winning his first tournament since he lifted the Volvo Masters, 60 miles down the coast at Valderrama, five long years ago would be the stuff of fairytales.
McGinley is just happy to be competing again and believes that can become twice as strong as he is right now.
“I’m very pleased,” McGinley told European Tour Radio’s Nick Dye after his round. “I’m really pleased. Just to have made the cut was a big thing but to be up on the leaderboard is wonderful.
“It has been a long four months out of the game. I’ve really missed it and it is just great to be back and near the top of the leaderboard.
“The surprise was last week. I hit the ball really well last week for a guy who was only playing his third round of golf for four months in the pro-am.”
The Irish ace had an eagle three at the 14th, his fifth, as well as four birdies and two bogeys. He hit 11 of 14 fairways and 11 greens, getting up and down for his par five times out of seven thanks to just 28 putts.
“My putting was really poor last week, which is why I didn’t score. So I knew if I could get that right, I would be okay.
“I didn’t go home after missing the cut and spent I lot of time over the weekend in Morocco working on my putting. As a result of that I’ve putted nicely the last two days.”
Explaining the seriousness of his knee injury, he explained: “It was sixth operation on my left knee and structurally it is not in great shape now.
“My cartilage is very much worn away and my kneecap is pretty much worn away too. There is debris that has to be taken out every couple of years. But it’s okay and if I look after it, it will look after me.
“I will have to spend a lot of time for the rest of my career in the gym, building up those muscle and not over-practising, which is something that is going to be difficult for me to do. When you haven’t played for four months you want to keep practising to get your game back and that hasn’t been the way for me.
“So I have got to do things a little bit differently and when I do practice, I have got to make sure that it counts. I am 50 percent down the road with my rehabilitation to get my knee as strong as I want to get it.
“But I am pleasantly surprised how much progress has been made already. The only slight difficulty I am having is with long bunker shots and uphill lies.
“It is probably more psychological than anything else because those were the shots that were giving me trouble last year. I back off a lot of those shots and don’t commit to them as much as I’d like to. The more I play, the more committed I will be to those kinds of shots.”
The consistent Gareth Maybin (70-67) is the next best of the Irish on three under par with Michael Hoey (69-69) and Darren Clarke (70-68) tied for 40th on two under.
Adopted Irishman Simon Thornton (70) and 3 Irish Open champion Shane Lowry (67) made the cut with a shot to spare on one-under par.
Now fewer than 18 player scraped into the weekend on the level par mark with Gary Murphy (71) especially grateful to make it as he battles to squeeze the most out of a limited playing schedule following his enforced visit to the Qualifying School last year.
Peter Lawrie bogeyed his final hole for a two over 72 but while he qualified on the mark, his close friend Damien McGrane missed out by a stroke despite firing a two under 68.
Around €20,000 short of passing the €3m mark in career earnings, the Kells man has made just one cut from five starts since January’s Abu Dhabi Championship.
He was eighth in the Alfred Dunhill Championship and tied 21st in the South African Open just before Christmas but did not practice with the new grooves until shortly before his 2010 debut in the gulf.