Luke Donald is seeking his first win for four years in the Madrid MastersThe Spanish sunshine failed to brightened Sergio Garcia’s mood as he missed hit first cut on European soil for six years in the Madrid Masters.

But while the former world No 2 was left to wonder what fate awaits him when he returns for the US Open in a fortnight, Ireland’s Graeme McDowell was enjoying his golf again after being freed from the shackles of the world rankings earlier this week.

The Portrush star faced a worrying wait for Monday’s updated list to see if he had remained in the top 50 and secured starts in the next two majors.

In the end he moved up one place to 49th and now he’s reaping the benefits of a clear mind as he posted a second successive 68 to trail his former Walker Cup team mate Luke Donald by just four shots at the halfway stage in the Spanish capital.

“I don’t have to worry about top 50 any more,” said McDowell, who started his day by holing a 113-yard wedge for an eagle three at the 10th. “I feel I have done a good job of keeping it out of my head but it is always there in the back of your mind. The brain is pretty powerful. 

“It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and now I can go and play and it’s nice to come to a reasonably straightforward golf course like this, where if you hit it in the fairway you have got great opportunities with wedges and short irons in you hands. 

“Golf courses like last week (at Wentworth) are tough and don’t give you much love back. So it is great to come here and feel like I am one of the top players in the field and have an opportunity to go low.”

Playing the kind of precision golf that is the hallmark of his game, Donald was seven under with three to play and while he bogeyed his 16th and 17th holes, his 67 was still good enough to give him a one stroke lead over rising star Rhys Davies on 12 under par.

The young Welshman celebrated his 25th birthday by carding a 68 to secure his place in the final group alongside Donald today.

McDowell will go out just ahead of them with another Welshman, Jamie Donaldson, whose 70 left him three shots off the pace on nine under.

Like Donald, McDowell also bogeyed the seventh with a three-putt and then failed to get up and down for par at the tough eighth.

“I could have got close to Luke but I notice he didn’t finish that well either, so I have a big weekend ahead,” McDowell said. “We are similar style players, fairways and greens guys who are good with the putter and I am looking forward to going head to head with a great guy and a great player.”

Paul McGinley slipped back into the pack on four under par after taking 32 putts in a disappointing 74.

“I had no return on the greens today and that was the difference,” McGinley said. “It’s a missed opportunity. I didn’t hole any putts, which didn’t create any momentum.” 

Peter Lawrie found some form with the blade for the first time this season as he finished birdie-birdie for a 69 that left him tied with McGinley on four under.

“To be back holing a few putts is the key,” Lawrie said after taking just 26 putts. “I’ve regained a bit of confidence with the putter and I am just delighted with that.”

Damien McGrane lamented his lack of fortune as he struggled to a 73 to make the cut with one to spare on two under par while Shane Lowry survived on the mark after a sloppy 74.

But Gary Murphy - forced to play with a marker after playing partners Jose Felipe Lima and Andrew Tampion both pulled out after the first round - has now made just three cuts from 12 starts this season after a second successive 73.

Former Royal County Down assistant Simon Thornton was also heading home after a 71 left him on four over.