Sweden's Niclas Fasth stayed right in the hunt for the US PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club when he tagged a one under par 69 onto his opening 66 to trail Japan's Shingo Katayama and American Ryder Cup hopeful, David Toms, by four shots.
Fasth, 29, playing in only his second Major Championship, finished a satisfactory day on 135, five under par while the cowboy hat-wearing Katayama fired a 64 and Toms a 65 for 131.
Fasth, who reputation grows by the day, had finished outright second in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes last month. This week he is in the shake up again, bravely chipping in at the 18th for a birdie after taking a double bogey at the previous hole.
"That was a bad shot" said Fasth, who found a watery grave. "But I fought well and that birdie at the last helped a lot. It was hot work but I wanted to stay in touch and try to put myself in position for the weekend."
Fasth, who girlfriend Marie is due to give birth on the day after the Ryder Cup, led the European challenge while Ernie Els became the top European Tour Member on the leaderboard with a second successive 67 for 134.
Lee Westwood, the 2000 Volvo Order of Merit winner and Colin Montgomerie, the man who held the title for the seven previous seasons, both showed their mettle in furnace-like conditions at Atlanta Athletic Club to build confidence for the final 36 holes of the US PGA Championship.
As Katayama and Toms moved into the tournament lead on a nine under par total of 131, both Westwood and Montgomerie reacted magnificently to moderate opening rounds by shooting under par.
Westwood, in the doldrums for much of the first half of the year until running Montgomerie close in the Volvo Scandinavian Masters, carded a two under par round of 68 for a one under par total of 139 and claimed: “That was comfortably my best round of the year tee to green in terms of ball striking.
“My caddie said it was a good 63, nett 68! It was a very sensible round. I missed only two of the 18 greens and it’s just a pity I couldn’t get the putts in otherwise I could have been eight or nine under and leading.
“My goal coming here was to win and it’s still my goal. The way I am playing I am capable of shooting 63 or even 62. I am going to spend the afternoon on the putting green and hope to get the putting sorts. Majors tend not to start until the last two days.”
Montgomerie looked destined to miss the cut when he reached the turn at four over par and needing four birdies to be absolutely guaranteed of being around over the weekend. He did precisely that. The Scot, who had started at the tenth, holed from 20 feet at the first, 15 feet at the fifth and sixth and from eight feet at the eighth to come home in 31.
“That was a good effort” he observed. “To be four over at the turn and knowing the cut would be level or one over and to do what I had to do is satisfying. I wasn’t driving well but I hit seven fairways out of seven on the way home.
“I’m glad to make the cut because I didn’t want to spend six days twiddling my thumbs here in America before the NEC Invitational next week. I feel I can now get going over the weekend and with an early start tomorrow I would be very disappointed not to be under par.”
Phillip Price of Wales continued to move up the leaderboard with a rollercoaster 69 for a three under par total of 137, a mark he shares with Argentina's Jose Coceres.
Currently lying tenth on the Ryder Cup points list, Price arrived in Atlanta knowing he needed a strong performance to hold onto that berth which guarantees automatic qualification to the Matches at The De Vere Belfry.
He followed an opening 68 with a fine one under par round, recovering from a double bogey at the third (his 12th) to birdie the sixth and ninth to finish at three under.
At the head of affairs, 28 year old Katayama fired a six under par 64 to tie the 36 hole record total of 131. The man with the cowboy hat said: "I feel very confident. I am comfortable in this kind of heat and feel I am playing well."
His nearest rival is Phil Mickelson, still searching for his first Major, but right in contention after shooting a second successive 66 for 132.
Jesper Parnevik, aiming to win the title and claim an automatic qualifying berth in the Ryder Cup side, made a determined forward move and was four under par for the day and the Championship playing the last. However a double bogey six cost him two valuable shots and he finished on 138, two under.
Also on that mark is Dane Thomas Bjorn, who threatened to chase the leaders at one point when he climbed to six under par. However bogeys at the 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th proved costly as he slipped to a 71 and a total of 138.
Andrew Coltart threatened the lead early in his second round but slipped back with a round of 72 to finish on 139 alongside Westwood.
Andrew Oldcorn, winner of the Volvo PGA Championship in May, produced a superb three under par 67 which he described as “character building”.
The Scot, who has slipped to 15th on the Ryder Cup points table, had been in a precarious position at three over par after an opening 73, but managed to compile his three under par round in hot, humid conditions to finish on level par.
Oldcorn admitted: “I knew this was last chance saloon and I had to come up with the goods or the Ryder Cup was gone in my mind. I was very determined going out there and just set out to do the best I could.
“It was a character building day. I really struggled yesterday. I’ve never played in heat like that before and I was shattered with six holes of my first round remaining. I’m glad I showed a bit of character to come back.”
Despite a double bogey six at the 14th, caused by a wayward second shot, Oldcorn fought hard to stay in the Championship which had already taken its toll on a handful of leading European Tour Members.
He bounced back with a crucial 20 foot birdie putt at the 17th hole, allowing him the cushion of playing the 490 yard par four last knowing that a par would certainly make the cut and a bogey might also be sufficient.
However out of the event are Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, who shot a 74 for 143 alongside Sergio Garcia, who dropped back with a 75. Darren Clarke (69-142) and Miguel Angel Jiménez (74-148) also missed out.
Tiger Woods, bidding for a hat-trick of US PGA titles, had been in serious danger of missing his first halfway cut in 74 attempts - the fourth longest streak in US Tour history - but he birdied the 15th from 50 feet and the 16th to shoot a 67 for level par.