Rory McIlroy was no more than afterthought for a change as European and American Ryder Cup wildcard hopefuls shuffled themselves in the deck on Friday with Stephen Gallacher emerging as the clear ace for Paul McGinley.
The Scot must win or finish in no worse than a two-way tie for second in the Open d'Italia in Turin if he is to knock Graeme McDowell out of the nine automatic spots in the race for a place at Gleneagles.
After an opening 72, his chances looked bleaker than bleak when he found himself a shot outside the cut mark and 15 shots behind new course record holder Hennie Otto with nine to play after the South African added a 62 to his opening 67 to lead on an amazing 15 under par.
But with his Ryder Cup hopes fading, Gallacher showed McGinley what he wanted to see before Tuesday's picks — ambition and form — and followed birdies at the 10th and 12th with four more in a row from the 14th in a career-best homeward nine of 30.
It all added up to a 65 that left the Scot tied ninth on seven under par — eight behind Otto and five adrift of Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, who carded a second successive 66.
Gallacher said: “Well, when you are 15 behind the guy in the lead and 12 behind second place knowing you need to win or finish second it is a strange feeling, but I knew I had to go low at some stage and it was just nice to get a run going on the back nine.
“I didn’t watch any of Hennie’s round. It was just when I got here and was having lunch someone said he was ten under for the day. I kind of though ‘my goodness’ but there are two rounds to go and a lot can happen in golf. As long as I have a chance going into the last round then I will be delighted.
“Given that I needed to go low today – usually you can build and build on it but I needed to go low today – I was definitely more aggressive than I usually would have been on a Friday. I need to finish first or second and I was more concentrating on the second place today. But there is a long way to go and if I can keep playing like that then I will have a chance to win or finish second.”
While Gallacher was doing his bit for Europe, McIlroy's FedEx Cup push suffered a mini blow he failed to build on three birdies in the first four holes and stumbled on the greens, carding a one under 70 in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston to trail leader Ryan Palmer (another Ryder Cup hopeful) by seven shots.
Palmer leads by from two other US hopes in Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson on eight under, adding more pressure on skipper Watson's shoulder following last week's win for Hunter Mahan in The Barclays.
If Mahan, Bradley and Simpson are three of the favourites for Watson's, McGinley has at last five names in his head.
Lee Westwood is out of the FedEx Cup which means that Ian Poulter and Luke Donald have a chance to impress and are doing so.
Poulter is considered a certainty for one of the picks — Westwood joked he should have a lifetime pick after Medinah while McDowell said that the picks were for Poulter and tow more.
Poulter preferred not to dwell in his predicament caused by injury and poor form and simply let his clubs do the talking with four birdies in his last five for a 67 leaving him tied sixth as Donald shot a 69.
Donald hopes that McGinley will look to his experience when makes his picks public on Tuesday but Gallacher may make life tough for the Dubliner with Francesco Molinari still not out of the running in Italy despite a 72 that left him nine behind the rampant Otto.
Gareth Maybin (73) leads the Irish challenge on four under in Italy with Darren Clarke (70) and Damien McGrane (71) back in the rear on two under.
The rest missed the cut with McGinley (72) and Simon Thornton (72) failing by two while Peter Lawrie — in serious trouble in his bid to retain his card - failed by six despite a 70.
Lawrie finished on four over alongside world No 895 Pádraig Harrington whose is enduring the worst season of his career.
Set to turn 43 on Sunday, Harrington missed his fifth cut in seven starts and his 12th from 23 starts after a 76 that included a quadruple bogey eight at the third, an eagle three at the ninth and a double-bogey seven at the 12, not to mention three bogeys.
David Higgins missed the cut by seven after a 71.
As for McIlroy, he complained that the course was tougher than in previous years and his putting didn't help him this time.
"The scoring conditions aren't quite as favorable as they have been in the past," he said. "Of course there's still some good scores out there but you're not seeing the sort of 8- or 9-unders that you usually see around this course."
Disappointed to shoot 70 fter starting so well, he added: "I'm a little disappointed that I couldn't keep it going after the first few holes, but it was tricky out there.
"The wind was up. The greens are firmer than they ever have been since I've been coming here."