A host of former European Tour and Challenge Tour champions will chase down Andrew Johnston’s lead in an enthralling weekend at the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, after the Englishman carded a stunning 65 to move one shot clear.
The 25 year old carded eight birdies on the way to a six under par second round which moved him to 11 under for the tournament, a shot clear of his compatriot Jason Barnes, who added a four under 67 to his opening 65.
Johnston is unlikely to be resting on his laurels heading into the weekend at the beautiful Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club, however, with a leaderboard packed full of experienced champions including two multiple European Tour winners in the shape of Bradley Dredge and Kenneth Ferrie.
They were both just five off the pace on six under par while five champions from the 2014 Challenge Tour season were also within touching distance of the summit, including two-time winner Moritz Lampert of Germany and Rankings leader Jordi Garcia Pinto of Spain – on six under and five under, respectively.
Johnston knows he must not think too far ahead but is happy with his game having enjoyed a solid start to the season, with two top five finishes helping him to 14th place in the Rankings heading into the week.
“I'm really happy with my start this week,” said the Londoner. “Everything feels solid at the moment and my game feels really good.
“My form’s been good and I'm just trying to do the right things and just keep plugging away. This course suits my game. You have to be good off the tee and I'm driving it well. It means I do not ever need much club going into the greens.
“You have to hit it straight and hit the fairways and I've been doing that, as well as hitting plenty of greens and giving myself plenty of chances.
“I'm looking forward to the weekend, as always. I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow. It’s good fun when you’re up there at the top and hopefully there’ll be a good crowd. I know Jason well and he’s a good lad so it will be good fun playing with him.
“I won’t be nervous tomorrow, there are still two rounds to go and we’re only halfway through. You can’t think about those things just yet.
“The more you’re up there and the more you play in the final groups the more you get used to it. I don’t think a win is far away and I’ve felt that way all year. I just need to put the four rounds together.”
Barnes, who shared the overnight lead heading into the second day, kept his momentum going on a colder day at the picturesque highlands venue, in the resort town of Aviemore, and he was also keen to focus on the positives and not worry about who was in chase further down the leaderboard.
“Everyone deals with pressure in their own way,” said the 30 year old. “Going into the last round in this position is a bit different than going into the third round but it’s getting easier the more times I'm up there.
“No one’s going to give you a win, you have to play great golf. You can’t go out and play two average rounds at the weekend.
“Ten under after two rounds where I only missed three greens and made one bogey though - you have to be confident after that. I just have to keep it going really.”
Terry Pilkadaris was in third place on his own after a four under 67 moved him to nine under par as the Australian, who has won three times on the Asian Tour, chases a maiden Challenge Tour victory.
Edouard Espana of France, Spaniard Xavier Guzman and Sweden’s Bjorn Åkesson shared fourth place on eight under par while three-time Challenge Tour winner and home favourite Greig Hutcheon joined 2014 Turkish Airlines Challenge winner Oliver Farr and three others on seven under par.
Dredge and Ferrie were joined in tied 12th by Lampert, Thomas Linard – who won the D+D Real Czech Challenge earlier this month – and the winner of the opening event of the season, Jake Roos, among others.