Championship as the only player under par at Royal St George’s but a host of European Tour Members, led by Thomas Björn in joint second place, are gathering behind the 1997 US PGA Champion preparing to make a move over the weekend.
Five European Tour Members lie within the top ten and three shots of Love III with 14 occupying places in the top 27 within five strokes of the lead.
Love III tops the leaderboard but enjoyed a huge slice of luck on the 14th where he pushed his tee shot towards the out of bounds only for his ball to ricochet off one of the posts lining the boundary of the course. He duly saved his par and went on to complete a one over par 72 and a halfway total of one under par 141.
Björn leads the European Tour challenge, a one under par 70 taking the Ryder Cup player to one over par 143 and only two shots off the lead. Björn has become a major force having finished in the top ten in the Open Championship in three of the last five years, his best performance coming in 2000 when he finished joint second behind Tiger Woods. Once again he is challenging for the top honours.
His round of two birdies either side of his solitary bogey on the fifth was in stark contrast to his opening day when he picked up four birdies, a double bogey and a quadruple bogey on the 17th, a score which included a two shot penalty after hitting his club into the sand after failing to extricate himself from a bunker.
There was no such frustration today as he proved the model of consistency in his bid to add to his seven titles on The European Tour International Schedule. He lies alongside Korean S K Ho on one over par.
Among the players a shot further back is Alastair Forsyth, making his first appearance in the Open Championship. Forsyth was out early and posted a one under par 70 to set a target of two over par 144, a target that stood for much of another windswept day on the Kent coast and remains very much in contention just three shots off the lead.
Forsyth arrived at Sandwich on the crest of a wave having twice finished runner-up in the past four weeks at the Diageo Championship at Gleneagles and the Smurfit European Open. He was also joint tenth in The Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond last week and currently occupies seventh place in the Volvo Order of Merit.
For 16 holes in the first round Forsyth was right up amongst the leaders but dropped to three over with a triple bogey on the 17th to card a 74. But he put that one hole behind him today as with two birdies and just the one bogey on the tenth on his way to a 70, saving par at the last from the greenside bunker.
“I played great and only dropped on shot all day,” said the 27 year old Scot. “The wind was not as bad as yesterday but still pretty tough and I’m pleased to be up there. I’ve been driving the ball well recently and continued to do that but you have to do everything well in these conditions. Any weaknesses and you are going to struggle. I managed to get up and down a few times and the last two holes made two good saves so I’m pleased with that. Hopefully I can continue and test myself against the best over the weekend.”
He was joined on that mark later in the day by the overnight leader Hennie Otto, who followed his first round 68 with a battling four over par 76, and Frenchman Thomas Levet.
Levet, runner-up to Ernie Els last year, has clearly developed a liking for links golf and once again cut a prominent figure at the Open Championship. Twelve months ago Levet tied with Stuart Appleby, Steve Elkington and Els, and after the initial four hole play-off was still unbeaten. It was only once the contest moved into sudden-death that Els finally got the better of the Frenchman.
A year on and Levet was once again delighting the record 44,000 spectators with some wonderful golf, particularly during a the front nine of 33, three under par, his birdie at the ninth taking him to the top of the leaderboard on three under par. A back nine of 40 dented his hopes slightly but he remains among the leading contenders going into the weekend after a 73.
“I’m really happy to be only three behind because on the back nine it is easy to hit nine bogeys in a row without doing anything wrong,” said Levet. “It is really difficult and the greens are getting very quick. It is difficult to putt and the pins are so tough.”
Sergio Garcia is also in the mix at two over par, holding on well over the back nine with two birdies and three bogeys for a level par 71.
“It was playing difficult although the wind died down towards the end,” said Garcia. “It is a tough course so you know you are going to hit a lot of good drives and they will end up in the rough. You just have to clear you mind to those. I had some good chances and would have liked to be a couple better. I holed some good putts and made some long ones on the eighth and tenth.”
Also in the group on two over par is the American duo of Ben Curtis and Kenny Perry, a player clearly in form having won three of the last four tournaments on the US PGA Tour, and Marco Ruiz of Paraguay.
Vijay Singh, an Honorary Member of The European Tour matched Forysth’s 70 to lie a shot further back on three over par alongside Mathias Gronberg and Tiger Woods, the World Number One shooting a one over par 72.
Fredrik Jacobson lies on four over par after a frustrating 76. After playing a bogey free opening round, Jacobson continued in the same vein as he went another 11 holes without a dropped shot and was right up amongst the leaders but six dropped shots in succession saw the Swede slip back into the pack.
After an opening 78, Els could have been in danger of missing the cut but he displayed the qualities of a true champion as he played himself right back into the Open Championship with a superb three under par 68 to move to four over par 146 at the halfway stage.
An early birdie on the second, greeted by applause from his playing partners as he recorded the first birdie from the group in two days of competition, was exactly the start Els would have wanted and that was followed by a two putt birdie on the fourth. Although the South African dropped a shot on the 11th he hit back with two more birdies at the 13th and 17th to complete the only sub-70 round of the second day.
“That was better, much better,” said Els. “I was happy to make a birdie early on the second. You need an early break if you are to make a score. I played well today, hit the ball nicely and kept the ball in play. Yesterday was very, very tough. With the wind blowing really hard and on a golf course like this if you start going the wrong way it is very hard to turn it around.”
Now he can look forward to the weekend with confidence.
“If you are there at the weekend you give yourself half a chance and that’s what I really wanted to do. I really wanted to get myself back into the championship again. We had the worst of the weather and the wind is calming down now but there are some really tough pin positions and you have to play well to get under par. If you get to even par at the end of the week you are going to be close.”
England’s Mark Foster, winner of the dunhill championship in South Africa at the start of the year, was also jostling for position having birdied to ninth with a curling left to right 20 foot putt for an outward half of 34 to move to level par and only one shot off the lead although two dropped shots early on the back nine saw him lose a little ground as he posted a two over par 73 to lie in the group on four over par.
Another Englishman Mark Roe made a remarkable start to his second round with six successive threes, his run only coming to an end when he could only manage a birdie four at the seventh. He had moved to five under par for the round and five over through 12 holes but much of his good work was undone with a triple bogey eight on the 14th.