Michael Hoey added a 68 to his opening 61 to keep Alvaro Quiros in his sights in the €1 million Rocco Forte Open - Verdura, Sicily.
The Ballymoney man, 38, is seeking his sixth European Tour win and while he was running on empty on Friday, he was looking forward to a refreshing dip in the Meditteranean and a fresh charge up the leaderboard in round three.
“It was hard towards the end, I used up a lot of adrenaline yesterday," Hoey said.
"I hadn't been in that position for a long time, to feel nervous on the golf course. I was a little bit tired on the last seven or eight holes.
"I got it in level par the last few holes which was decent and it was tricky in the wind. It's all about the next two days, I'm in a good position.
“I think the next two days, it's going to be pretty windy but here it changes a little bit as well on the coast. It's what makes the golf course, the 18th was driver-four iron for me there, instead of maybe driver-eight iron, so it’s a big difference.
“I’m going to go jump in the Mediterranean now, it looks nice down there and I want to go for a swim, try not to hurt my feet on the stones down there! Then I’ll get a little bit of rest, a bit of physio, the usual stuff.”
Gary Hurley produced his first bogey-free round in a European Tour event for 12 months when he carded a five-under par 66 and goes into third round tied for 17th on nine-under, six shots behind Quiros who has a two-stroke lead over Hoey and Swede Sebastian Soderberg.
Six-time European Tour winner Quiros rounded off a stunning return to form in the opening two days with four closing birdies giving him a 64 and a two-shot lead.
The Spanish star has experienced a dramatic drop in form in recent years, having been a regular fixture in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking between 2009 and 2012 – peaking at 21st – and has admitted he is intending to play on the Challenge Tour this season to regain his form and confidence.
A win in Sicily, however, would mark a remarkable return to the European Tour and he is in pole position after following his opening 63, which included a hole-in-one, with a seven under 64 at Verdura Golf Club on the southern coast of the Italian island.
Englishman David Horsey and South Africa’s Zander Lombard were a shot further back on 12 under while Frenchman Rafaёl Jacquelin, who won on this very course on the European Tour back in 2011, signed for the joint-lowest round of the day - a nine under 62 – to move into contention on 11 under.
“It's a very nice situation I am in now. It's a long time ago since I have been in this situation. My game today was a little bit worse than yesterday but my putting on the back nine was unbelievable so I'm very happy with it.
“I'll try to improve and get the long game in order because the putting is picking up - I'm putting great.
“Sometimes I've been very greedy, trying to force myself into a better score when the game wasn't good and today I have to be proud of myself. Eight consecutive pars was the typical situation for me because I'm not shooting low. Today was a big step mentally-speaking, trying to be patient.
“I'm not going to fix my situation in one day or one tournament so hopefully I can keep working, still adding good rounds, and hopefully at the end of the year come back to the Tour."
“It’s a little windier today so I think three under is a good score. Driving hasn’t been a strength of my game recently but I’ve been working on so it’s becoming a good asset for me.
“I think my clubhead speed is around 117/118mph – I’ve gotten that up plenty in the last year and a half. I’m not sure what it is now but I feel like I’ve been hitting some good drives in the last two days, it has been very good to me.
“I just need to remind myself what position I’m in. You can’t really focus too much on the leaderboard. I’ve just got to keep taking it one shot at a time which I’ve been doing pretty well for the last few days. There’s still half the tournament left so I just need to play my golf.”
“I’m obviously very pleased, it was a little tougher today, the wind was up this morning and it’s a lot harder to get it close on that back nine. I didn’t play quite as well but I managed to get it on the fairway and I gave myself plenty of birdie chances.
“I probably could have holed a few more early on and I missed a couple of chances, but I had a couple of nice putts too so I think five under is a fair reflection.
“I very rarely change putters to be honest and I have a new one in the bag this week. It’s almost the same head with a different face so it just rolls that little bit quicker.
“The greens are a little bit slow and I left a couple short early on, it’s just about adjusting. If you can get dialled in on the putting green then you’ll do well.
“It’s fantastic here, we’re spoiled really. It’s a great golf course, the hotel, the views, the weather – everything is perfect. It’s a great place and I’ll definitely be coming back in the future.”
“It was definitely a tale of two nines. The wind picked up on the back nine and I just struggled to predict the wind. I was just too far from the pins and I was two-putting the whole time.
“The back nine is definitely the more testing one and you’ve got to hit some good shots. I feel like I actually played well but didn’t quite get the score. There were two short birdie putts that I missed early in the round and that stunted my momentum. I fought well for it and just had two soft dropped shots.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the weekend. I’m happy with my performance, it was just a solid round but I didn’t quite get close enough.”
“I played really solid. At the beginning I hit really close to the pin and I managed to hole the short putts today compared to yesterday and that makes all the difference.
“I'm here to win for sure. I tried to hit a low round today to come back on the score because we knew it was going to be low if the wind didn't blow but for the weekend it might be different.
“I would love to get some wind because I'm normally pretty good in the wind. I'll try to do my best and try to get close to Alvaro.
“Normally I don't change (clubs) really often but two weeks ago I practised quite a lot with the new irons and we did pretty well. I love the contact, it's almost like a blade, like the old days. It's a good feeling, and I have new wedges as well. I'm striking the ball really well again.”
127 A Quiros (Esp) 63 64,
129 S Soderberg (Swe) 61 68, Michael Hoey (Nir) 61 68,
130 D Horsey (Eng) 64 66, Z Lombard (RSA) 62 68,
131 R Jacquelin (Fra) 69 62, J Lima (Por) 64 67, M Foster (Eng) 67 64,
132 J Carlsson (Swe) 67 65, L Haotong (Chn) 64 68, H Porteous (RSA) 68 64, M Fraser (Aus) 66 66, S Heisele (Ger) 63 69, J Kruger (RSA) 63 69, W Ormsby (Aus) 66 66, E Johansen (Nor) 65 67,
133 P Maddy (Eng) 66 67, R Paratore (Ita) 71 62, R Wattel (Fra) 66 67, J Guerrier (Fra) 65 68, Gary Hurley (Irl) 67 66,
134 M Korhonen (Fin) 67 67, M Manassero (Ita) 67 67, T Bjørn (Den) 65 69, J Winther (Den) 68 66, T Lewis (Eng) 67 67, E Pepperell (Eng) 67 67, L Slattery (Eng) 64 70, S Manley (Wal) 66 68, R McEvoy (Eng) 67 67,
135 A Dodt (Aus) 67 68, N Colsaerts (Bel) 68 67, P Peterson (USA) 66 69, R Johnson (Swe) 70 65, J Scrivener (Aus) 68 67, G Porteous (Eng) 68 67, O Stark (Swe) 68 67, A Björk (Swe) 69 66, F Laporta (Ita) 66 69, P Angles (Esp) 69 66, E De La Riva (Esp) 64 71, B Evans (Eng) 68 67, P Tangkamolprasert (Tha) 67 68, O Fisher (Eng) 66 69, L Gagli (Ita) 68 67,
136 J Donaldson (Wal) 69 67, N Kimsey (Eng) 67 69, M Armitage (Eng) 65 71, S Jamieson (Sco) 69 67, J Parry (Eng) 69 67, P Khongwatmai (Tha) 66 70, M Siem (Ger) 68 68, N Cullen (Aus) 66 70, J Smith (Eng) 68 68, J Morrison (Eng) 71 65, D Im (USA) 66 70,
137 J Suri (USA) 75 62, C Berardo (Fra) 66 71, J Rutherford (Eng) 69 68, M Weir (Can) 67 70, R Kakko (Fin) 68 69, C Paisley (Eng) 66 71, S Webster (Eng) 70 67, J Dantorp (Swe) 68 69, N Johansson (Swe) 66 71, A Connelly (Can) 68 69, O Lengden (Swe) 68 69, A Saddier (Fra) 69 68, M Wallace (Eng) 68 69, T Detry (Bel) 71 66, R Karlsson (Swe) 70 67, L Cianchetti (am) (Ita) 67 70,
138 N Bertasio (Ita) 74 64, D Howell (Eng) 68 70, M Pavon (Fra) 66 72, R Karlberg (Swe) 67 71, S Tiley (Eng) 71 67, F Bergamaschi (Ita) 68 70, B Virto (Esp) 69 69, M Nixon (Eng) 67 71, D Fox (Aus) 69 69, G Migliozzi (Ita) 70 68, A Chesters (Eng) 70 68, P Gal (Cze) 69 69, B Dredge (Wal) 65 73, R Echenique (Arg) 69 69, A Otaegui (Esp) 68 70, C Hanson (Eng) 70 68, R Fox (Nzl) 69 69, L Canter (Eng) 65 73, G King (Eng) 68 70, R Langasque (Fra) 70 68, P Widegren (Swe) 70 68,
139 J Edfors (Swe) 69 70, D Brooks (Eng) 73 66, A Karlsson (Swe) 67 72, N Ravano (Ita) 70 69, J Ahlers (RSA) 70 69, J Quesne (Fra) 69 70, T Immelman (RSA) 69 70, J Heath (Eng) 70 69, J Fahrbring (Swe) 70 69, M Ford (Eng) 68 71, A Romano (am) (Ita) 69 70,
140 O Farr (Wal) 70 70, R Dinwiddie (Eng) 70 70, N Fasth (Swe) 70 70, L Jensen (Den) 71 69, S Henry (Sco) 66 74, C Doak (Sco) 71 69, P Edberg (Swe) 72 68, A Tadini (Ita) 68 72,
141 M Delpodio (Ita) 74 67, J Van Der Vaart (Ned) 72 69, T Linard (Fra) 73 68, D Perrier (Fra) 68 73, S Khan (Eng) 71 70, R Gonzalez (Arg) 69 72, B Ritthammer (Ger) 73 68, J Stalter (Fra) 69 72,
142 J Vecchi Fossa (Ita) 73 69, O Wilson (Eng) 71 71, S Forsström (Swe) 71 71, A Pavan (Ita) 72 70, A Velasco (Esp) 72 70, M Lundberg (Swe) 69 73,
143 S Dyson (Eng) 71 72, R Coles (Eng) 69 74, G Stal (Fra) 75 68, C Lee (Sco) 75 68, C Terragni (Ita) 72 71, E Molinari (Ita) 70 73, R Bland (Eng) 71 72, M Southgate (Eng) 72 71, A Maestroni (Ita) 68 75, G Fortini (am) (Ita) 69 74,
144 A Knappe (Ger) 70 74, E Di Nitto (Ita) 72 72, R Saxton (Ned) 72 72, R McGowan (Eng) 68 76, T Fisher Jnr (RSA) 73 71,
145 D Huizing (Ned) 73 72, R Finch (Eng) 74 71, D Stewart (Sco) 76 69, L Scalise (am) (Ita) 71 74, M Campigli (am) (Ita) 69 76,
146 P Geerts (am) (Ita) 76 70,
147 M Ortolani (Ita) 76 71,
148 M Jonzon (Swe) 70 78, A Zemmer (Ita) 74 74,
150 F Maccario (Ita) 72 78,
151 S Gros (Fra) 74 77, M Crespi (Ita) 75 76,
154 N Holman (Aus) 77 77, T Foster (Eng) 80 74,
** M Orrin (Eng) DQ 0,