Gregory Havret of France and Spain’s José Manuel Lara shared the spotlight at the halfway stage of The Barclays Scottish Open as two of the biggest names Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, stalked the leaders at Loch Lomond.
Havret took advantage of the calm morning conditions to fire the low round of the week - his seven under par 64 earning him a bottle of 30 year old Ballantine’s whisky for his considerable efforts.
Meanwhile Lara maintained his concentration levels in the worst of an afternoon downpour to shoot a six under par 65 which propelled him alongside the Frenchman at the top of the leaderboard on 132, ten under par.
If the pace-setting pair took time to look over their shoulder, they should have seen Major Champions Mickelson and Els making headway, the former adding a 68 to his opening 65 for a two round total of 133.
Els, with a five under par 66, currently lies in seventh place on 135, a stroke behind England’s Simon Khan, Andres Romero of Argentina and American Boo Weekley.
Havret missed out by a shot to qualify for the US Open Championship at Walton Heath (he was first reserve there) and missed out on The Open Championship spot at The K Club last week on a final round countback to Pelle Edberg. Never having played in a Major, he is anxious to gain the one last available place to the highest finisher in the top ten at Loch Lomond, not otherwise exempt.
He said: “I think there are a few reasons why my form has turned around. First of all I changed my putter before the Open de France. It was sort of a lucky one, I went to my flat and was searching around and I saw the belly putter and said, ‘oh, why not give it a try’ because I was struggling a little bit on the greens. And since that my putting is a lot, lot better.
“Secondly I have started seeing Jos Vanstiphout. He came to me after my first round of the BMW PGA Championship and I was obviously playing very bad since the beginning of the year. My first ten tournaments were really horrible.
“Jos came to me and we worked a bit together, and I was much better after that. And my coach went to see him at the Open de France and said to him, ‘You know, you have to work with Greg, I think he needs you,’ so since then we have been working together. It's not like we are ten hours every day together, but he definitely changed something in my mind and I feel much better.”
Meanwhile Lara, who claimed his breakthrough victory in the UBS Hong Kong Open last year, met with a serious setback this spring, when he damaged his left Achilles heel and missed seven tournaments in succession as he unsuccessfully sought a cure.
Just when he was getting “desperate”, to use his own word, Lara consulted a Valencia-based Korean acupuncturist, Mr Cho by name, who inserted 15 needles in various parts of the golfer’s body.
The treatment had the desired results, as Lara improved, bit by bit, to the point where he was able to get back into competitive action again. He said: “I had tried everything and was getting desperate. They said it was coming from my back and I had all sort of tests done but the only thing that made me feel better was the acupuncture.
“At the moment I can’t run or do anything in the gym but I can walk and hit balls which I couldn’t before. So it’s getting better. Mr Cho put the needles in many places – my hands, my thumbs, my arm and my neck. He hit the spot – he’s really good. He told me that I would get better in two months.”
Mickelson, who still feels a modicum of pain from his wrist injury, showed no sign of any discomfort as he muscled his way into contention. A birdie at the last sweetened his afternoon as the rain teemed down, and the three-time Major winner is in the right position to strike over the weekend.
“I am looking forward to it” said the American, who did an early reconnaissance at Carnoustie last Sunday. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. I hit a few bad shots but I was able to keep it in play, make a few pars and a couple of birdies coming in.
“I was very fortunate to have shot under par today. I wasn’t hitting it where I wanted to. Hopefully I can get it turned around for the weekend to have a chance.”
Els, aiming to become the first three-time winner of the title, matched Mickelson’s closing birdie to get into the top ten and admitted he was still a little rusty after taking two weeks off. There’s been a lot going on, with my business and suchlike, but that’s running really nicely now and I feel comfortable again.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend. I’ve said this for a long time – but I’m close. My swing feels good and the putting stroke is starting to feel better.”