Maarten Lafeber was delighted to return to form as the Dutchman claimed a share of the halfway lead at the Sicilian Open.
The 37 year old, a former winner of the KLM Open, had to return to the Qualifying School last season after finishing 149th in The Race to Dubai.
And although Lafeber successfully regained his card, his last top ten finish came back in August 2010.
But on a fascinating day at Verdura Golf Resort & Spa near Sciacca, Sicily, Lafeber’s second straight round of 68 was enough for a share of a six-way tie for the halfway lead on eight under par, with Jamie Donaldson, David Lynn, Pelle Edberg, Simon Wakefield and first-round leader Peter Lawrie also sitting at the top of a congested leaderboard.
“Yesterday I probably played my best round for a couple of years, and today again I was very solid,” said Lafeber.
“I’ve been disappointed with my putting, because I’ve created so many chances. Yesterday I hit 18 greens in regulation, and today was much the same. But I’m struggling to find the right line on the greens, so to shoot five under today was very good.
“Last year my long game was horrible – I was hitting it all over the place. I haven’t played well enough for the last two years, and to go to Tour School for the first time since 1997 was a bit of a shock. So I’m happy to be back playing well again.”
It could have been even better for Lafeber, who took the outright lead with his seventh birdie of the day at the 17th hole, only to then bogey the last.
“The bogey on the last was disappointing, but I made a bad swing and if you do that then you get punished,” he added.
“It’s looking pretty bunched at the moment. Jamie Donaldson is playing very well, and there’s some good players up there so it won’t be easy. It’s important for me to get off to a good start, and hopefully I can take more of the chances which come my way over the weekend.”
The leading six have three European Tour titles between them, with Lawrie’s win at the 2008 Open de España the most recent, while Lynn and Lafeber’s only victories came in 2004 and 2003 respectively.
Donaldson, who signed off with a round of 61 in Morocco last week, boosted his hopes of a first win at the 249th time of asking. The 36 year old, whose third-place finish last week was his 32nd top ten on The European Tour, added a 71 to his opening 65.
Like Lafeber, Donaldson could have led on his own but bogeyed the ninth, his last hole.
That came after he mixed three bogeys with three birdies on his outward nine, birdied the sixth from ten feet and had a second straight birdie at the par five seventh.
Edberg had six birdies, two bogeys and an eagle at the par five 11th as the Challenge Tour graduate seeks a first win on The European Tour.
“I played pretty well all day,” said the 32 year old. “It was quite cold first thing this morning, but I’m used to that! Then when it warmed up a bit the ball started flying a bit further, and I was able to make a few birdies.
“I’ve felt my form was close for a while now, but you never know in this game. Just when you think you’ve got it cracked, it all goes wrong. But I’ve been practising well out in Thailand for the past three months, and hopefully the work’s going to pay off.”
Lynn holed a 50-footer at the ninth for one of four birdies in a 69, while his compatriot Wakefield, who had the fourth runner-up finish of his career in Austria last season, signed for a bogey-free 67.
“It was just one those days when everything went right,” said Wakefield. “I hit every shot I wanted to hit, and managed to hole my fair share of putts, so I’m delighted.
“The company’s been great, the weather’s perfect and there aren’t many more scenic places like this to play golf, so I’ve really enjoyed myself. It makes you feel a bit more relaxed, and I play my best golf when I am relaxed.”
Lawrie was unable to build on his course record 64 in the first round, mixing three birdies with three bogeys in a level par 72.
No fewer than 25 players ended the day within two shots of the lead, amongst them American Major winners John Daly and Rich Beem.
Former US PGA Championship winner Beem had a second straight 69 for a six under halfway total, while Daly charged into a share of the lead before dropping two shots in his last three holes.
“Anybody can win this tournament, because there are so many players close to the lead,” said Daly. “So that makes it really exciting.”
With just five shots between the leading group on eight under par and the cut line on three under, the tournament equalled the European Tour record for the fewest number of strokes between the two marks.
The first and only time this happened previously was the 2004 Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dpolphin Energy, where the 36 hole lead was six under par and the cut mark was one under.