Once a fierce critic of new technology, Paul McGinley knows it’s now his friend after he added a 70 to his opening 65 to challenge for the BMW International Open in Cologne.
The 45-year old Dubliner, who has been forced to play a reduced schedule so far this year to take the pressure off his ailing body, finished the day just two strokes behind Sweden’s Joel Sjöholm on nine under par as he seeks his first tour victory for nearly seven years.
But the three-time Ryder Cup winner, one of the front-runners to land the European Ryder Cup captaincy for 2014, admits that the extra distance he can now command with modern fairway woods has given him a chance to compete on a soft Gut Lärchenhof.
Tied for second with English pair Danny Willett and Chris Wood and Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, McGinley played the back nine in one over with a birdie at the 15th cancelled out by bogeys at the 10th and 17th.
But he covered his homeward nine in three under when he hit a three wood to 15 feet and holed the eagle putt at the 546-yard third for his second eagle of the week so far and then birdied the par-five sixth.
Asked about having four fairway metals in his bag, McGinley said: “I have to say, I’m getting technology‑‑ the last hole, no way I can hit a 5‑iron out of that lie. But I was able to chop it (a hybrid) around the green and try to get up‑and‑down.
“Also I can drive it through the wind as well, so I can hit it low, as well, too. Yeah, I’m feeling a real benefit from that, and the new three‑wood, it gives me an extra 15 or so yards which makes a lot of the par 5s on in two which they weren’t before.”
Following top 10 finishes in Korea and Wales, McGinley is enjoying his golf again and feels a new lease of life thanks to his light schedule.
“I’ve played less this year,”said the Dubliner, who will fancy his chances of doing well in new week’s Irish Open at Royal Portrush, especially if the wind blows. “That has given me a little appetite. And you know what it’s like, you play well and it gives you confidence.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played a schedule like that. I played really well in Korea and that gave me a boost and then obviously decent at Wentworth and then Wales.”
One of the early starters, McGinley took advantage of relatively calm conditions before wind got up though he did have to deal with inconsistent greens.
“Yesterday was a shoot out. But it was much tougher. We had a good test of golf today. Keeping it on the fairways is very important. Yeah, we had a good test of golf.
“Normally the greens are immaculate when we come here, probably the best greens of the year. Obviously with the heavy weather we have had in northern Europe for the last month, it’s really made them very soft and once they get soft or you’re going to get indentations.”
Leader Sjöholm, a 27 year old former Challenge Tour graduate, lit up Gut Lärchenhof with two eagles - a chip in from heavy rough and holed shot from 100 yards - and four birdies in a second round 66 to reach 11 under par and snatch the lead.
Born in Chile and adopted by a Swedish couple when he was just three months old, he eagled both the 577 yard 16th and 546 yard third for a superb six under par round in the windy conditions.
A closing birdie took the World No 306 two clear but like the experienced McGinley, one of the few players in the chasing back with European Tour titles to his name, he knows there is a long way to go.
“Now I saw that I’m up there, and of course it’s going to be a new situation for me,” said Sjöholm. “But then I watched a lot of Euro Cup the last two or three weekends, I’ve seen what happens after 45 minutes, and I’m happy to be on top at the moment - but I would rather be on top on Sunday.
“I’m just enjoying this so much, I don’t really think too much about it. It’s just a great feeling and a fantastic tournament. I’ve always played here in Germany, and it was good to play well at the new venue.”
Sergio Garcia’s 67 lifted him into a share of 13th on six under alongside, among others, Fraser and England’s Andrew Marshall, who won a BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe with a hole-in-one at the 215 yard 17th.
But Martin Kaymer three-putted for bogey there and missed out by a single shot like Ryder Cup Captain José María Olazábal.
As for the rest of the Irish, Damien McGrane recovered from his opening 76 when he carded seven birdies in a joint best of the day 66 to share 48th on two under with Simon Thornton the only other survivor, a shot further back after rounds of 71 and 72.
Michael Hoey added a 75 to his opening 69 to miss the cut by a shot while Shane Lowry, a close friend of Sjöholm’s, followed birdies at his 15th and 17th holes with a triple bogey seven at the ninth to miss the weekend action by three.
“Morale is quite low at the minute,” Lowry tweeted. “Unfortunately that is this game but just have to stay patient and results will happen.”
The Offaly man began the week ranked 100th in the Race to Dubai and needs a good week at Royal Portrush to right the ship after two missed cuts and a withdrawal following an opening 81 in Wales from his last three starts.
Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin dropped three shots in his last five holes to finish alongside Lowry on two over after a pair of 73’s.