Paul Dunne held off a charging Rory McIlroy to win his maiden European Tour title six months ago.
Now he faces a weekend onslaught from another superstar in Jon Rahm after a seven-under 65 gave him a four-shot cushion over the big-hitting Basque and a three-stroke lead over the field at the halfway stage of the Open de España.
Dunne won the British Masters by three shots from McIlroy last October. But given his brilliance over the first two days at the rain-softened Centro Nacional de Golf in Madrid, he's hoping to give himself a chance of a second European Tour win that could catapult him as high as 56th in the world.
“It was just one of those days, I just went on playing,” said Dunne, who took up where he left off after Thursday’s 66, carding nine birdies and two bogeys in an early morning 65.
“I wasn’t really thinking about the score and then the score kind of built on itself."
The Greystones man (25) took advantage of the short, rain-softened course and preferred lies to make four birdies in an outward 32 before cancelling out two bogeys with five more birdies on the way home.
That his playing partners Eddie Pepperell and Pablo Larrazábal also shot 65 said it all about the dynamic in the group.
Leading by three shots on 13-under par from Spain's Nacho Elvira, Australia's Brett Rumford and England's Callum Shinkwin, he's looking to the weekend with confidence following back to back top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour recently.
"I’m feeling good, feel confident around this course so hopefully [I'll shoot] a couple of more good rounds and give myself a chance," Dunne said after finishing his day by curling in a 20-footer for a birdie two at the ninth.
“I think it’s been trending the right way for a while and I’ve got a nice run of events in Europe over the next few weeks, so I'm looking forward to that, and hopefully I can keep doing what I’m doing.”
Rahm almost holed a six-iron for an albatross at the par-five 18th, but despite the frustration of clipping the flag and then missing a six-footer for eagle, a 68 means he’s lurking just four shots behind Dunne on nine-under.
"It's a little bittersweet just because my ball-striking felt amazing — 17 greens, most of the fairways, as long as I was hitting it, it's hard to hit it better," said Rahm (23), who's tied for fifth with England's Robert Rock, Scot Marc Warren and Swede Henric Sturehead.
“I was just getting a little frustrated that I didn’t make putts."
Huge crowds have turned out to watch him in action and he’s hoping to give them something to cheer about tomorrow.
“I can’t even imagine if I play good and I’m in the final group, the amount of people we’re going to have on Sunday," Rahm said. “It’s almost scary to think about it.
"I think everybody wasn't expecting the amount of people that we have this week. I'm glad that I can help the tournament, I'm glad I can help Spain and Spanish golf in that sense.
"I don't remember the last time I played a tournament where the first hole is a par five and from the tee all the way to the green there was at least a line of people, and the first hole is not a short hole.
"It doesn't happen often, it may happen in Majors - it doesn't happen at Augusta unless you play with great people - so I can't help but feel pride and hope that we get more people on the weekend."
If Rahm and Dunne are flying high, Mount Juliet’s Gavin Moynihan is trying hard to remain patient after a 74 saw him miss the four-under-par cut by six strokes, extending his run of missed cuts to eight in a row.
Moynihan was motoring, five under with five holes to go on Thursday when he made a nine at the par-five fifth and bogeyed the sixth to open with a 72.
G-Mac cuts it at Harbour Town thanks to header
On the PGA Tour, Graeme McDowell sank a clutch 13-footer for a closing par and a two-under 69 to make the cut on mark in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.
But he was also thankful that a fan headed his ball back towards the green after his approach to the par-five fifth headed left.
"Great effort," McDowell quipped, signing a glove for the fan before going on to make par.
The 2013 champion finished on level par, ten strokes behind halfway leader Bryson DeChambeau, who shot a seven-under 64 to lead by a shot from England’s Ian Poulter (64) and South Korea’s Si Woo Kim (65) on 10-under.
World number one Dustin Johnson shot a second successive 69 to share 26th, six shots off the pace on four-under.
No joy in China
On the Challenge Tour, it was a week to forget for Michael Hoey and Cormac Sharvin as they missed the three-over par cut by 11 strokes in the wind-affected Belt and Road Colourful Yunnan Open in China.
Five-time European Tour winner Hoey (39) added a 75 to his opening 81 and was joined on 14-over par by Ardglass’ Sharvin (25) who shot 80 as Finland's Kim Koivu posted a six-under 65 to lead by two strokes on seven-under-par from England's Jack Senior and Scotland's Scott Henry.