Shane Lowry — armed with a new putter from his huge collection — tops a star-studded leaderboard at the halfway stage of the ISPS Handa Wales Open after a flawless second round 65 at The Celtic Manor Resort, but admitted his position was something of a surprise, writes the European Tour.
The Offaly ace, who has recorded all three of his top-ten finishes this season on British soil, carded six unanswered birdies to move one ahead of first round leader Joost Luiten and big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts on nine under par.
The 2012 winner Thongchai Jaidee and Italy’s former Ryder Cup star Edoardo Molinari are a shot further back on seven under, while one of Europe’s Team members for next week’s contest at Gleneagles, Jamie Donaldson, maintained his chances of becoming the first Welsh winner of his National Open with a second round 67 that left him five under.
Lowry, who put a Tank putter in his bag this week reaped the rewards by averaging 27 putts for the first rounds, has made just one cut in four previous visits to the 2010 Ryder Cup venue. That was four years ago, when he finished 39th.
But the two-time European Tour winner, who gave himself a close to a dozen birdie chances, is delighted to grab a rare halfway lead and determined to enjoy his weekend.
He said: “I'm pretty happy. I've never, ever done well here before, so to be leading after two rounds is nice.
“There is still a long way to go in the tournament but I'm really looking forward to the weekend.
“I didn't drive it that good yesterday but still shot a decent score. I drove it a lot better today, drove it a lot straighter and gave myself a lot of chances and rolled in a few putts, so it was nice.
“I felt like coming over that I could give it a go this week. I was around tenth going into the back nine on Sunday last week, and similar the week before in Switzerland. If I can get myself in a good position come the back nine this weekend, again, hopefully I can give it a go.”
Ryder Cup wild cards Stephen Gallacher and Lee Westwood experienced differing results but similar emotions.
While Gallacher headed home in relaxed mood despite seeing his preparations cut short by missing the halfway cut, Westwood was equally happy that a battling performance ensured he would have two more rounds to get his game into shape for Gleneagles.
"Yesterday was quite tough," Gallacher admitted after a round containing two birdies - both on par fives - and one bogey. "It was tough to get going and get my head around it but today was a lot better. I was maybe trying a wee bit too hard yesterday and still thinking about next week.
"I feel good, I'm physically and mentally good so I am really looking forward to next week. I'll get up the road this afternoon and relax this weekend and maybe play nine holes with Thomas (Björn) on Monday morning. I've done my preparation for it and I just want to get up there and get going."
Westwood had also not played competitively since bowing out of the FedEx Cup play-offs after the first event, but recovered from an opening 73 with a 69 which featured two crucial birdies in the last four holes.
"I needed a couple more rounds," Westwood said. "I was not particularly competitive yesterday, it was pretty scratchy, but today was more solid. A few iffy shots but it was nice to finish with two birdies in the last four holes to ensure being here for the weekend and two more competitive rounds.
"I have been working on my game and been in the gym quite a lot, but I'm not quite match fit. I had three weeks off and you lose your sharpness."
Team-mate Björn, who played alongside Gallacher, added a 69 to his opening 71 to lie two under par, with Donaldson’s 67 most impressive of the Gleneagles-bound quartet.
Simon Thornton is tied for 22nd on two under after a 69 that featured a frustrating double bogey four holes from home.
Damien McGrane (71-72) looked to be heading home when he bogeyed his 12th and double bogeyed his 13th holes (the fifth and sixth). But he birdied the seventh and ninth to make the one over cut on the mark.
Michael Hoey (71) missed out by two with Gareth Maybin, who is battling to retain his card at 111th in the Race to Dubai, three off the pace on four over despite a rollercoaster 69.
Kevin Phelan (73-76), David Higgins (78-72) and Peter Lawrie (73-78) also missed out and at 151st, 194th and 172nd in the Race to Dubai, they have a mountain to climb to make the Top-110 who keep their cards.