Chris Perry and Tim Herron led the Stars and Stripes assault on the WGC-American Express Championship at Valderrama by sharing the halfway lead on 137, five under par.
Perry, 38, and 29 year old Herron – winner of the Bay Hill Invitational – moved one stroke clear of 1997 Open champion Justin Leonard and first round leader, Vijay Singh of Fiji.
Mark James, the recently retired European Ryder Cup captain, is the leading European in the high quality field after adding a one under par 70 to his opening effort of 69 for a total of 139.
Herron recovered from a bogey at the second to pick up six birdies in a fine round of 66 while Perry eagled the 17th on his way to an equally proficient round of 67.
“I played pretty well, especially yesterday when the wind was blowing” said Perry. “It felt like an Open Championship a little bit and I didn’t want to blow myself out on the first day.”
Herron added: “This is one of those courses where if you’re playing well you can get it going, but on the other hand, even on a good day like this, it can backfire. It’s a very fine line where you have to hit the ball.”
Perry joined Herron at the head of affairs soon afterwards and enthused: “It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a beautiful place. I like the golf course because it makes you hit different shots off the tees, both right to left and left to right. I’m pretty comfortable here.”
Leonard, like many of the 62 competitors this week, acknowledged that golf at Valderrama demands pin-point accuracy and he achieved that superbly with a round of 67 in the brilliant sunshine on the Costa del Sol.
That moved him level with Singh, who seemed destined to grab the tournament by the throat when he birdied the eighth, ninth and tenth. However he dropped a couple of strokes on the homeward stretch to finish alongside Leonard on 138.
Leonard admitted: “This is one of those golf courses where it’s kind of a game of inches. A foot here or there can make a big difference.
“I am in good shape right now. I feel good about the way I’m playing and I think I know the course fairly well now. I’ve seen in in different conditions. I’m glad I played here in the Ryder Cup. It makes playing here a little easier.”
James is one of four players on 139, just two off the pace, while Tiger Woods recovered magnificently from a double bogey at the 15th to bogey the next two in a round of 69 for a two under par total of 140.
On the same mark is Lee Westwood, still in the hunt to overtake Colin Montgomerie at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit. Westwood, who shot a 73 on Thursday, muscled his way into the thick of the action with a 67 which might have been several shots better.
He said: “If you had given me a 67 before I started I would have been delighted, but it really should have been three or four better. The Order of Merit wasn’t on yesterday but if I can stay within two or three, anything can happen out there.”
Woods said: “After that double bogey I rallied back with two birdies. I’ve put myself where I need to be. I wasn’t discouraged. It was just one bad shot which unfortunately cost me two strokes.”
Colin Montgomerie made early progress in his attempt to sew up the Volvo Order of Merit with the minimum of fuss. However things didn’t work out to his advantage as he finished with a 72 for a level par total of 142. That left him in a tie for 21st with big rival Westwood in ninth.
Despite that, the Scot wasn’t too disheartened as he reflected afterwards. He commented: “From looking like leading the tournament I fell further behind. You start watching leader boards, you start thinking of other people and think of other things. The stress levels are high, to say the least.”