Pádraig Harrington shot his lowest round for more than three years when he posted an eight under 63 to blast his way into contention for the Portugal Masters.
As Michael Hoey missed the cut and lost his card and Paul Dunne also missed out but looks likely to keep his, Harrington rolled back the years with a display of top putting and excellent play at Victoria Clube de Golfe in Vilamoura
At 13 under par, Harrington is tied for third with Jens Fahrbring, one stroke behind Scotland’s Marc Warren (65) and defending champion Andy Sullivan, whose 61 was only the joint best score of the day.
It was his lowest score on the European Tour since the Portugal Masters in 2009, when he shot a 10 under 62 (par was 72) in round two and ended up third behind Lee Westwood on 19 under par.
The last time Harrington shot a 63 was in the third round of the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open and tied for ninth behind Phil Mickelson.
And he’s happy to be in the mix too and hoping he can keep his foot down and his putter hot as he chase his first win on European soil since he claimed The Open in 2008.
“I was holing a few putts, of course I was having fun,” said Harrington, who was six under after 10 holes and then followed his lone bogey at the 12th with three more birdies.
"It's nice to be making a few birdies. Felt like I had home support out there. Obviously a lot of Irish people down here. I suppose it's a little while since I've been getting those sort of cheers on the golf course, so I was appreciating it and enjoying it.
Out in 31, Harrington birdied the 10th and hole a bellied wedge for another at the 11th to go six under for the day,
But what pleased him post was his form with the putter.
Obviously I’m putting well. Longer putts, putting well. Shorter putts are still a little bit tentative with some of the lines. Outside of that, I have been playing well for quite a while.
"So kind of more focused on the mental side of it, which is always a good sign, you know, when a player is kind of thinking about his routine and that. You realise how sloppy it is at times, so I need a strong weekend and that, get my mind clear and good things happen.”
He’d prefer a slog for the weekend rather than a birdie fest but he’s happy to try and win a birdie battle too.
“The tee times are moved back tomorrow, so it should be another nice weekend.,” he said. "I expect somebody is going to go low over the weekend and get it into the 20s. I'm going to have to follow or else lead, one or the other.
"It's an interesting course. There are some shots to be hit, like if you want to hit the fairway on 18, you've got to hit a good shot. 7 is the same. If you want to hit the fairway, you've got to hit a good shot.
"So that's harder when you're leading the tournament and you've got something to protect. Lining up and aiming at the water, say, down 7 and hitting the right shot to hit the fairway, it takes a bit, when you've got something to protect. It's not so hard to do when you're in the middle of the pack.
"So you will see guys tend to charge very well on this golf course. You will see somebody shoot 14-under par on the weekend, no doubt about it. But not all the leaders are going to do it. It's going to be tougher for the leaders.
"Look, who is going to predict it -- as I said, Andy Sullivan went mad last year and kept going mad. He's up there again this year. It’s not hard to believe that if he’s in form he won't get into the mid 20s."
Sullivan launched himself into contention for back-to-back Portugal Masters titles after a 61 to join Warren at the top of the leaderboard on 14 under par.
The Nuneaton native bagged ten birdies in a flawless display reminiscent of his performance 12 months ago, when he blitzed to victory by a record nine shots.
If Sullivan were to retain his trophy, he would create more history as no player has ever won the Portugal Masters in successive seasons.
Remarkably, Sullivan’s score was only the joint lowest of the day, as Richie Ramsay bettered his opening round by ten shots courtesy of 11 birdies and a solitary bogey.
But it is his fellow Scotsman Warren who is best placed to prevent Sullivan’s march to the title, having maintained his momentum from the first day with a second round of 65.
Harrington shares third place with Swede Jens Fahrbring who, at 174th in the Race to Dubai, would in all probability need to win the tournament in order to retain his playing privileges for next season.
Other players fighting for their lives include Mikko Korhonen, who is currently primed to jump into the all-important top 111 places in the Race to Dubai after moving to 11 under par. The same applies to Oli Fisher (114th) and Jason Scrivener (113th), who are on nine and eight under par respectively.
Eddie Pepperell’s card looks in danger now after he followed a 64 with a 76 to miss the four under par cut by two shots.
Pepperell is 110th and vulnerable with just 245,000 but Dunne, who also missed out by two shots on two under despite a second round 67, has 260,000 and has only fallen five places to a projected 105th in the Race to Dubai projections with the top 111 keeping their cards.
Hoey, who was 186th and needed a top two finish to keep his card, carded a second successive 73 and faces a trip to Q-School.
With heavy rain predicted to fall overnight and continue into Saturday morning, tournament officials have decided to play the third round with a two-tee start from 11am.
“I knew I needed to go low today to get close to the leaders. So to go out there and shoot that score is absolutely fantastic. I had thoughts of 59 coming down the stretch there, but it wasn’t to be. But it’s still fantastic to being on top of the leaderboard and give myself a chance going into the weekend.
“The game’s felt good for a long time – the putter’s just been a bit cold. But today I holed a couple of good putts out there to get the momentum going. It only takes a couple of putts to go in, then you start seeing it go in all the time
“I knew if I could get off to a quick start, I could get my supporters on my side and really use them to build the momentum – and it worked. They were cheering me on the whole way round. Every time they turn up I seem to play well, it might be expensive next year for me to bring them everywhere, but it’d be worth it. They’re amazing, and I can’t thank them enough for their support.”
“It’s always tough to follow up a really good score like yesterday. So I tried to stay as patient as I possibly could out there, and it was nice to finish with a birdie three at the last.
“Once I had a good finish at the Dunhill Links which took care of my card, I feel as if a bit of pressure has come off me and I can look forward to trying to qualify for some big tournaments at the end of the year. It’s much nicer place to be playing your golf and enjoying it, as opposed to looking back over your shoulder all the time.”
“I was holing a few putts today, so of course I was having fun. It’s nice to be making a few birdies, and I felt like I had home support out there because there are a lot of Irish people out here. I suppose it’s a little while since I’ve been getting those sort of cheers on the golf course, so I was appreciating it and enjoying it.”
Round Two Scores:
128 M Warren (Sco) 63 65, A Sullivan (Eng) 67 61,
129 J Fahrbring (Swe) 65 64, P Harrington (Irl) 66 63,
130 D Lipsky (USA) 64 66,
131 R Jacquelin (Fra) 66 65, E España (Fra) 65 66, M Korhonen (Fin) 64 67, P Waring (Eng) 67 64,
132 S Dyson (Eng) 67 65, J Lagergren (Swe) 66 66, T Fisher Jnr (RSA) 69 63, R Ramsay (Sco) 71 61, P Lawrie (Sco) 66 66, N Elvira (Esp) 65 67, C Shinkwin (Eng) 64 68, C Paisley (Eng) 65 67,
133 B Rumford (Aus) 67 66, O Fisher (Eng) 66 67, R Rock (Eng) 67 66, R Karlsson (Swe) 71 62, M Baldwin (Eng) 64 69, J Walters (RSA) 67 66, J Campillo (Esp) 69 64, S Jamieson (Sco) 69 64, A Hansen (Den) 67 66,
134 J Scrivener (Aus) 68 66, J Carlsson (Swe) 68 66, L Bjerregaard (Den) 67 67, R Gouveia (Por) 66 68, A Noren (Swe) 67 67, M Siem (Ger) 67 67, G Storm (Eng) 68 66, G Coetzee (RSA) 66 68, D Drysdale (Sco) 69 65, P Meesawat (Tha) 67 67,
135 S Gallacher (Sco) 67 68, A Cañizares (Esp) 65 70, T Aiken (RSA) 67 68, D Horsey (Eng) 68 67, M Southgate (Eng) 68 67, E De La Riva (Esp) 68 67, T Fleetwood (Eng) 67 68,
136 C Berardo (Fra) 70 66, M Kieffer (Ger) 68 68, P Hanson (Swe) 68 68, L Jensen (Den) 66 70, T Olesen (Den) 69 67, S Khan (Eng) 69 67, T Linard (Fra) 71 65, D Im (USA) 68 68, T Lewis (Eng) 71 65, C Hanson (Eng) 68 68, R Dinwiddie (Eng) 68 68, M Lundberg (Swe) 71 65, B Hebert (Fra) 70 66,
137 P Edberg (Swe) 70 67, S Webster (Eng) 70 67, N Colsaerts (Bel) 67 70, A Wall (Eng) 69 68, N Bertasio (Ita) 69 68, J Parry (Eng) 69 68, R Evans (Eng) 66 71, N Fasth (Swe) 69 68,
138 J Hansen (Den) 68 70, F Aguilar (Chi) 71 67, Y Yang (Kor) 70 68, T Pieters (Bel) 69 69, R McEvoy (Eng) 71 67, M Ford (Eng) 69 69, D Brooks (Eng) 69 69, A Quiros (Esp) 69 69, R Paratore (Ita) 67 71, F Fritsch (Ger) 70 68, J Hugo (RSA) 71 67, L Nemecz (Aut) 70 68, P Peterson (USA) 67 71
139 B Virto (Esp) 71 68, M Madsen (Den) 71 68, S Manley (Wal) 72 67, F Laporta (Ita) 73 66, J Quesne (Fra) 69 70, C Lee (Sco) 73 66,
140 P Larrazábal (Esp) 71 69, P Dunne (Irl) 73 67, M Manassero (Ita) 69 71, J Olazábal (Esp) 73 67, P Oriol (Esp) 74 66, G Havret (Fra) 72 68, L Slattery (Eng) 71 69, D Howell (Eng) 70 70, M Foster (Eng) 71 69, E Pepperell (Eng) 64 76,
141 L Canter (Eng) 72 69, J Morrison (Eng) 71 70,
142 R Davies (Wal) 71 71, G Stal (Fra) 72 70, K Broberg (Swe) 69 73, G Boyd (Eng) 71 71, S Gros (Fra) 69 73, H Porteous (RSA) 70 72, D Gavins (Eng) 70 72, R Wattel (Fra) 73 69,
143 P Figueiredo (Por) 73 70, J Robinson (Eng) 69 74, B Evans (Eng) 66 77, R Kakko (Fin) 75 68,
144 M Carlsson (Swe) 68 76, J Winther (Den) 71 73, A Otaegui (Esp) 74 70, P Lencart Silva (am) (Por) 74 70,
145 J Carlota (Por) 75 70, R Green (Aus) 74 71, J McLeary (Sco) 75 70, A McArthur (Sco) 70 75,
146 E Molinari (Ita) 72 74, M Hoey (Nir) 73 73,
147 J Ramos (Por) 70 77,
148 O Wilson (Eng) 76 72, D Dixon (Eng) 72 76,
149 B Åkesson (Swe) 72 77,
150 J Busby (Eng) 78 72,
151 T Cruz (Por) 76 75,
152 H Santos (Por) 73 79,
153 T Silva (am) (Por) 74 79,
** R McGowan (Eng) 74 RT