The numbers of leaders remained the same but the personnel changed as three different players, Darren Clarke, David Howell and Peter Lawrie, took over at the head of affairs after the second round of the dunhill links championship.
All three finished their 36 holes at nine under par 135, Howell and Lawrie completing their second rounds at Kingsbarns with respective rounds of 68, while Clarke completed the triumvirate with a 68 over the Old Course at St Andrews.
Four players, Henrik Bjornstad, Michael Campbell, Paul Lawrie and Gary Murphy, shared fourth place on eight under par 136 but the tightness of the competition overall was summed up by the statistic that 37 players were within five shots of the lead going into the weekend.
First man to post the clubhouse target was Dubliner Peter Lawrie, who put the experience of playing the links course at Portmarnock in his formative years to good effect with an excellent round which featured five birdies and only one dropped shot.
Currently 52nd on the Volvo Order of Merit, Lawrie is in pole position to be named the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year on The European Tour and the 29 year old admitted his performance over the first two days was the perfect fillip to end a disappointing recent run which has seen him miss his last four cuts in a row.
“I just haven’t got off to a good start in any of the tournaments I have played previously to this and I found myself struggling behind the eight ball all the time,” said Lawrie.
“But this week I am far more relaxed and am enjoying playing with Marie (Jordan, the wife of Formula One Team Owner Eddie Jordan) in the amateur team competition. She is a lovely lady, she helps me relax, and is a pretty good player too.”
Next to join Lawrie on the nine under par mark was England’s David Howell who, like the Irishman, carded a 68 at Kingsbarns after having opened with a 67 at St Andrews on Thursday.
A year ago Howell, who has finished tied for eighth in his last three tournaments on The European Tour, was in contention but fell away thanks to a 79 at Carnoustie. With the famous Angus Championship Course to tackle now in round three, the 28 year old Englishman has a chance for revenge.
“Yes, I’m not sure what really happened last year at Carnoustie, it was a strange round, so hopefully nothing like that is going to happen again,” he said. “I will go out and try and find the middle of the green as often as I can and try to get the putts rolling in.”
Certainly the winner of the 1999 Dubai Desert Classic managed that with some regularity at Kingsbarns, notching six birdies in total to counteract his two bogeys, the bulk of his yield coming at the par fives on the Fife course, where he picked up birdie four at all four.
The third man to join the leading group was Darren Clarke, the only one of the leading trio to play at St Andrews and now the Irishman faces his third round at Kingsbarns on Saturday.
Certainly if he eliminates the errors which stopped him taking the lead outright at the halfway stage, the man who won the World Golf Championships – NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio a month ago will be a hard man to beat.
“I played okay again today,” said Clarke. “I made a couple of silly mistakes and left a few shots out there but overall, at nine under par for the tournament at this stage, I’m pretty pleased with and it has put me in a decent position going into the next couple of rounds.”
Of the four players tied on eight under par 136 in fourth place, the best score was returned by the 1999 Open Golf Champion Paul Lawrie, who carded a fine 67 at St Andrews to go with his opening 69 at Carnoustie. He too, like Clarke, will face the third round at Kingsbarns on Saturday.
Highlight of the Scot’s round was a superb run of four birdies in four holes from the 12th, his third hole of the day having started at the tenth. Lawrie drove the green at the 12th before holing from 25 feet at the 13th, two putting for birdie on the 14th and hitting a nine iron to six feet for a birdie three at the 15th.
The run could have continued but he missed a six footer for birdie on the 16th before letting another one slip by from eight feet at the 18th. But despite those missed opportunities, the five time winner on The European Tour was delighted with his position.
“I played extremely well again,” he said. “I have had five weeks out with my neck injury and it is hard to get back into it. But my confidence now is getting better every day. It could have been mega-low today and the good thing is that my neck is fantastic now, the best it has been for two years.”
One shot behind, seven players finished their two rounds on seven under par 137 including the current Number One on the Volvo Order of Merit, Ernie Els, and Denmark’s Søren Hansen who, at one point in the latter stages of the final round, held a three shot lead on the field.
But that evaporated in a disappointing stretch starting at the demanding 200 yard 15th hole, right into the wind, where his two iron tee shot flew right into the water on the way to a triple bogey six.
Momentarily unsettled, the winner of the 2002 Irish Open at Fota Island, shed another shot at each of the 16th and 17th holes through three putts, but he recovered well to par the testing final hole to keep alive his hopes of a second Tour win.
“I did have it going but turning into that wind on the last few holes, you need to hit good shots and I didn’t,” he said. “But I am still in with a good chance as there is a lot of golf left to be played in this tournament and anything can happen.”
The one consolation for Hansen was the fact that amateur partner, former Dutch football international Ruud Gullit, kept his game together on the closing stretch and ensured that they led the amateur part of the event going into the weekend on 19 under par.