Prowling Padraig Harrington surged through the field at soggy Valderrama to keep his hopes of winning the Order of Merit very much alive.

The Dubliner carded a brilliant two under par 69 in wet conditions to jump from 30th place overnight into a nine-way tie for ninth place at halfway.

And he knows that he will become European No1 for the first time in his career if he succeeds Paul McGinley as Volvo Masters champion tomorrow.

Just four shots behind leader Henrik Stenson on level par, third place could be good enough for Harrington to overhaul food poisoning victim Paul Casey at the top of the money list.

As Graeme McDowell slipped from second overnight to 25th after a disappointing 78, Harrington is praying that he can repeat his form of last year when he carded two brilliant weekend 67s to sneak into the top ten.

Harrington beamed: “My wife reminded me that I’d shot two 67s on the weekend here last year and I’d pay a lot of money to do that again. In fact, I would pay the whole prize fund actually.

“If the weather is like today then two 67s is very much on around here, especially if I hole a few putts. I could do it tomorrow and do it the next day as well.”

One of the early starters yesterday, he was 16th when he left the course and declared the hope that the leaders would not get too far ahead of him.

And he got his wish on a day of squally showers and gusting winds as only Stenson managed to better his score by making five birdies in a row from the 13th to card a 68 and lead on four under.

Not one player in the last five groups managed to break par with first round leader Jose Manuel Lara taking a 76 and McDowell a 78.

Now the Dubliner’s main worry is that he does not pick up the tummy trouble that has left four players, three caddies and six courtesy car drivers battling diarrhoea. and nausea.

Grinning, he said: “It’s amazing. David Lynn and Simon Wakefield were both sick, and Soren Hansen got it as well and loads of caddies.

“A lot of people are going down with it. No, I’ve taken no precautions, but I’m probably going to regret that tomorrow.”

The victims also include Casey, who leads the Order of Merit by more than €218,000 from Harrington but can still be overtaken if the Dubliner wins the event.

Harrington can also afford to finish third and still capture the money title if Casey finishes outside the top 35.

And while the English power-hitter said he felt like he’d been beaten up as he tried to shake off a case of suspect food-poisoning, his one over par 72 left him in a share of 35th place on six over at halfway.

Casey said: “I just feel weak and lethargic, like I’ve been beaten up. Tomorrow I’ll be better and Sunday I’ll be fine.”

As for the Order of Merit race, he added: “There’s not a lot I can do. I’ll probably crunch some numbers and I think if I finish in a certain position I can maybe force Padraig to finish second.”

To do that, Casey must finish 34th or better and he has the guts to do it too after overcoming a night of vomiting in his hotel to keep his chances alive.

McDowell joked that he had no excuses for a round of 78 that featured two three-putts, eight bogeys and just one birdie.

He smiled: “I wish I could say I have the bug but I don’t. I certainly played like I had it though.”

Stenson pitched in twice for birdies as he picked up five shots on the trot from the 13th and needed just three putts in that five-hole stretch to lead by one stroke from Lee Westwood on four under par.

Westwood birdied the last two for a 70 and a three under par total with Aussie Richard Green and English trio Luke Donald, David Lynn and Philip Archer tied for third place on two under.

At level par, Harrington is well in the hunt now after a solid day on the greens.

Putting was Harrington’s downfall when he used the blade 33 times in a first round 73.

But he shaved six shots off that statistic yesterday, despite two frustrating three-putts, and believes he can get the job done if he continues to play as solidly.

After holing from seven feet for par after finding greenside sand at the last, he said: “I sank a few and had a couple of three putts so it was a nice average day on the greens.

“I wouldn’t say I went berserk or anything like that. I’ve had a bad day and an average day, hopefully I’ve two good ones left in me.

“I have to stay patient and relaxed on the greens and let the putts drop and happen and do what they may. Hopefully at the end of the week I will have holed enough to get me up to the top of the leaderboard.

“Like any week I have goals and I would be trying to win the tournament here. If I win the tournament I win the Order of Merit. So I might as well focus on that goal rather than on any other.”