From Brian Keogh at Wentworth
Paul McGinley continued his amazing rise from the golfing doldrums when he finished birdie-eagle to leave the field spluttering in his exhaust fumes at the halfway stage of the the BMW PGA Championship at rain-softened Wentworth.
On a day when big names like Ernie Els, Darren Clarke and Justin Rose exited in a red mist, McGinley kept his composure to card a magnificent six-under par 66 and move four strokes clear of Sweden's Robert Karlsson (69) and England's Miles Tunnicliff (65) with a record-setting 13-under par total.
Now the 41-year old Dubliner is determined to ride the wave of success that has brought Irish professional golf an incredible seven wins in the last 11 weeks by clinching his first tournament win since the 2005 Volvo Masters.
And after plummeting “like a stone” from 18th in the world following that Valderrama victory to somewhere outside the top 200 last year, the current world No 157 knows that he can’t afford to get ahead of himself on a course that drove many to distraction yesterday.
“I’m long enough in the game to realise that there’s two long days ahead,” said McGinley, whose only success since that Valderrama victory came in the 2006 Ryder Cup. “I’m prepared for a long week. It’s a marathon and we’re only halfway through.”
Out in level par 35 with two bogeys and two birdies on his card, McGinley produced another putting masterclass on the back nine to storm home in six-under par 31 and put himself in position to notch a victory that would catapult him into contention for his fourth successive Ryder Cup appearance.
"I'm thrilled and what a thrill playing that back nine,” he said after draining a 20 footer for eagle at the 18th. “I had great support and it was kind of like the Ryder Cup. Even though I haven't quite won in the past having finished second here twice, people have known me from over the years so it's great to have their support.”
Imperious from tee to green with just four missed fairways in 36 holes on a course softened by overnight rain, he wielded his putter like a wand on the back nine, holing for birdie from 25 feet at the 10th, 20 feet at the 13th and then from 40 feet from the fringe of the 15th to take sole possession of the lead on 10 under par.
A six footer at the par five 17th put him two ahead before he completed his day by setting up that closing eagle with a three iron to 20 feet at the last.
Playing with a custom-made putter has made all the difference to McGinley, who has changed his putting style under the tutelage of biomechanic Dr Paul Hurrion.
“It’s not like the hole is the size of a bucket,” he said with a grin. “There’s nothing changed there. I feel like I’ve putted well in several tournaments without holing a lot. I’m just rolling it towards the hole and it’s going in."
McGinley’s playing partner Graeme McDowell slipped 12 shots off the pace with a 73 and confessed: “If he keeps doing that he’s going to be unbeatable. He’s just not making mistakes.”
Damien McGrane is the next best of the Irish on six-under par after a brilliant 66 and he hopes that he can play his part in keeping Ireland’s purple patch going over the weekend.
“We have to ride it while it lasts,” said McGrane. “And if we can get this week out of it and next week and the next week, that's our job. And it is up to us all to do that.”
Peter Lawrie had to eagle the 18th to make the one-over par cut on the mark with a 72 but Clarke (73), Gary Murphy (75), Rory McIlroy (77) and Mark Staunton (80) made all made an early exit.
Late in the day, England’s Robert Dinwiddie sliced two strokes of McGinley’s day old course record - and 15 shots off his first round effort - when he finished with five straight birdies for a nine-under par 63 to move from six over to three-under.