Thomas Levet, who won The Barclays Scottish Open amidst emotional scenes at Loch Lomond last weekend, continued to flow on a wave of adrenalin as he led The European Tour challenge at the halfway stage of the 133rd Open Golf Championship at Royal Troon.
The 35 year old Frenchman, who started the day in a tie for the lead with England’s Paul Casey, surrendered the top spot to American surprise packet Skip Kendall, but held on to second place with a fine one under par 70 for a six under par total of 136.
It was the culmination of a great day for The European Tour contingent on the famous Ayrshire links as five other Members – Michael Campbell, Ernie Els, Barry Lane, Colin Montgomerie and Vijay Singh - featured in the top ten moving into the weekend.
But just as on The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, it was Levet who took the spotlight. The three time winner on The European Tour started in fine style with birdies at the second and fourth to be out in 34 and held his game together in fine style on the inward half, his only departure from par being a bogey at the 12th.
"The difficult thing today was the pin placements which all seemed to be on the left hand side of the greens which was tough with the wind, especially on the inward half” said Levet. “It meant you had to hit the ball into the middle of the green and be patient with the putting which I thought I did well.
“I am a little tired after last week and the first two rounds here, but when you play that well it doesn’t matter. I will have a couple of weeks off after this whatever happens so it is okay, I will have a good sleep tonight and go for it tomorrow.”
The only man to finish ahead of Levet was Kendall, a 39 year old journeyman professional from Florida, who lost to Phil Mickelson in a play-off for the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic January, but who has still to taste victory on the US PGA Tour.
Key to success for Kendall, whose 66 matched the best round of the tournament to date, was the finish he put together, birdieing the 12th and 14th but saving the best for the par five 16th, where he chose to putt from off the green and proved it was exactly the right option when his 50 foot eagle effort dropped gently into the cup.
One shot behind Levet, Barry Lane continued his wonderful season when he moved alongside Korean KJ Choi, winner of last season’s Linde German Masters, in a share of third place on five under par 137.
Lane, who won The Daily Telegraph Damovo British Masters on the parkland layout of The Marriott Forest of Arden in May for his first European Tour title in over ten years, showed he was equally capable on a links course with a superb showing.
After a rollercoaster front nine of 36 which featured three birdies and three bogeys, including sixes at both the par fives – the fourth and sixth – Lane steadied the ship in fine style and made a mockery of the widely-held belief that the inward half at Royal Troon is the tougher nine.
The Englishman began his birdie quest at the 12th before finishing in considerable style, rolling in a 15 foot birdie effort at the 17th before bettering that from 20 feet at the 18th to be home in 32.
"It is funny that on both days my form on the front nine has been a little bit up and down but on the back nine it has been very solid and today was a perfect example of that,” said Lane.
“To make two at the 17th was very special as it is difficult to shape your tee shot properly into the wind and then at the last I just hit two iron from the tee and nine iron to the centre of the green and rolled in the putt, it was a great way to finish.
“In the past, I don’t think I have ever played really well during the Open week but I have played a few in my career so over the weekend I just want to go out and try to enjoy it. There is a long way to go but as long as I can enjoy it, that is the main thing.”
The good news for The European Tour continued when Campbell, Els, Montgomerie and Singh all finished their second rounds firmly in contention on four under par 138.
Campbell, who proved his game was bang on form with a second place finish behind Levet at Loch Lomond, battled hard and reached the turn in one under par 35 but, unlike Lane, found the traditionally tougher inward half at its hardest and dropped shots at the tenth and 12th after driving off the fairway into the gorse.
Another bogey looked possible on the 13th when he again missed the fairway, but a superb recovery shot to the centre of the green set up an unlikely birdie three. Six par figures completed his round but he did well to achieve that, especially on the 17th where he holed a testing ten footer for par after missing the green to the right.
“It was pretty hard out there,” said Campbell. “When I woke up this morning and saw the wind I knew that par would be a good score. On a day like today you have to try and shoot under par on the way out and prepare to be patient and face the music on the back nine.
“I have been working pretty hard on my putting technique over the past month or so and it has been paying off, especially that putt on the 17th which was a big one in my round. But to be four under par after two rounds in the Open is pretty good.”
Campbell was joined in the sanctuary of the clubhouse shortly afterwards by Singh, looking to add the Open title to an already impressive golfing CV which includes a Masters Tournament Green Jacket and a US PGA Championship crown.
The 41 year old, who carded an opening 68, reached the turn in level par 36 after birdies at the second and seventh but dropped shots at the fifth and ninth. Six par figures began the back nine before Singh found the green in two at the par five 16th and two putted for birdie. The Fijian had lengthy birdie chances at the closing two holes, but on both occasions the ball stayed above ground.
"I played really well today," said Singh. "I wasn't very happy with the way I hit the ball yesterday even though I scored well but today was much better and I wasn't really in any trouble all day.
"The more chances you get, the more comfortable you are when you get into these positions. I was in a good position last year but didn't quite do it but I am playing well just now so I am really looking forward to the weekend."
The quartet of European Tour hopefuls was completed by Els and Montgomerie who both completed two respective rounds of 69. Montgomerie, cheered on by the patriotic home supporters from his native Troon, might have finished even higher up the leaderboard, but he three-putted the final green for a bogey five.
“It slightly undid the good work the Scot put together when he birdied the 15th and 16th holes but the seven time Volvo Order of Merit winner in the 1990s was philosophical on reflection.
"At the last my drive was wrong, my eight iron approach shot was wrong and my first putt was wrong so we shouldn’t just concentrate on the little putt I missed for par,” said Montgomerie.
“It was disappointing but no perfect round of golf has ever been played on a links course and I don’t suppose it ever will be. I’m happy with a 69, I would have taken in before I went out, and I have to say the support I had was fantastic, it reminded me of The Ryder Cup at the Belfry.”