Darren Clarke drives on the 17th at Pula GC. Credit: golffile.ieDarren Clarke produced a battling back nine to move into contention for his first title for three years as Simon Thornton hit a super 65 to keep give his tour comeback bid a kick start in the Iberdrola Open in Mallorca

Playing for the first time in five weeks after becoming disillusioned with his lack of progress this season, Clarke recovered from a three over par front nine with a storming, homeward 32 for a level par 70 that left him tied for second with rookie Matthew Nixon  (70) on five under.

The Dungannon star is three strokes adrift of stablemate Chris Wood (65) with Thornton five behind in joint seventh after a superb 65, the equal best round of the day.

“It was much trickier today that it was yesterday and 70 is not a bad score this afternoon with the greens as firm as they were,” Clarke said. “All in all 70 is pretty good. I got myself on the back foot early with a couple of mistakes early on but bought back and got it back to level, which is pretty pleasing.

“The course is tricky, the course is tough and if you don’t hit those fairways you can’t control your spin going into those greens. It doesn’t appear that long but it plays a lot tougher than it appears.

“It was good to have a break and come back at it again, and I have got myself in with a chance over the weekend and I will test myself and see how my swing’s doing.

“Surprised? I never know how I am going to play after five in a row, never mind a break. But I am excited and looking forward to the weekend.”

Thornton lost his European Tour card at the Qualifying School last year and has played just one Challenge Tour this season after opting to skip the long haul Challenge Tour or less European Tour evens in South America, Kenya and India.

“I haven’t played much,” said Thornton, who was 21st in the Challenge de France in Paris. “Last week’s Challenge Tour event in Disneyland was my first event. I have just been working hard on my game at home.

Simon Thornton’s hard work is starting to pay off. Credit: golffile.ie “I usually practice in the winter but don’t change much but this winter I have changed my swing quite a lot with my coach Kevan Whitson and it has worked wonders.

“My bad shots now are a lot better than they were. If you can hit your bad shots straight, your good shots are always going to be good.

“I could have gone to South America and Kenya for Challenge Tour but I think going all that way for one week and coming back just doesn’t fit in with what I want to do and how I want to do it.

“I made a decision and you have to stick by your decision. The ambition is to get back on the main tour. The Challenge Tour is great but you want to be out here full time.”

Clarke was pleased to get away with a 70 in a tough day at a tricky Pula Golf Club in Son Severa.

Darren Clarke. Credit: Golffile.ieWith brisk winds and firm greens, the cut fell at four over par and Clarke was pleased that he held his round together.

He looked to be sliding out of contention when he started the day with an outward 38, but four birdies in six holes after the turn put him back on track.

There was another dropped shot when his tee shot found water at the 16th, but the former Ryder Cup star was satisfied with his day’s work.

“I didn’t play badly I just hit a few errant shots that, as I said earlier, put me in the wrong spots which you can’t afford to do on this golf course,” he said. “The wind turned on us on 16 and I hit my tee shot the wrong way so dropped one there but all in all I am pretty pleased, five under going into the weekend.”

Shane Lowry lets rip in Mallorca on Friday. Credit, golffile.ieEuropean Tour rookie Nixon, who was the only amateur to secure a card at last year’s Qualifying School Final Stage, shot a level par 70 which included two double bogeys.

Damien McGrane (74) and Shane Lowry (70) are tied for 30th on two over par but Paul McGinley missed the cut by two shots on six over after a 76.

Colm Moriarty shot 70 or a 10 over total with Gary Murphy a shot further back after a second round 77.