Rory McIlroy’s astonishing young talent may be drawing a lot of the plaudits at the Omega European Masters, but defending champion Brett Rumford has shown he will not give up his title without a fight.
The Australian carded a second successive round of 67 to reach eight under par, while McIlroy, who led by three overnight in his bid to become the third youngest winner of an event on The European Tour, only managed a level par 71.
It leaves both players with a share of the second round lead, but Alejandro Cañizares, Jean-François Lucquin and Juan Abbate are just a shot back at seven under.
With the wind making conditions increasingly difficult through the afternoon the lead remained intact with the morning starters clearly benefiting from the luck of the draw.
Finland's Mikko Ilonen did threaten the lead when moved to nine under but three late bogeys saw the two-time European Tour Champion drop back into a share of sixth place.
instead it was McIlroy and Rumford who will make up the final pairing.
The 19-year-old Northern Irishman stretched his lead to four with an opening birdie, but although he chipped in on the eighth and added a further birdie at the long 14th there were also three bogeys on his card.
Rumford birdied three of his first five holes, grabbed two more early on the front nine, but bogeyed the 506 yard par four fourth like McIlroy and parred his way in from there.
Only South African Dale Hayes and Spanish star Seve Ballesteros have tasted success on the circuit at a younger age than McIlroy.
Should he do it on Sunday, last year's top amateur at The Open Championship would be only five days older than Ballesteros was when he captured the 1976 Dutch Open.
McIlroy's opening 63 had been the lowest score of his professional career by three, but two more than the lowest round of his life, an almost unbelievable 61 at Royal Portrush.
McIlroy said: “It's always difficult to follow up a really low round. I've learnt that before.
“You rarely see a player go 63-64. A 71 was a pretty good effort. It was quite tricky out there and some of the pin positions are quite extreme.”
He described the 236 yard 16th, for example, as a dogleg par three because of a tree in the way. “I've never played one of them before,” he added.
Rumford is braced for a different challenge at the weekend. He said: “Conditions are getting tough. This is how it played at the Pro-Am and the greens dried out and the course changed completely from Wednesday to Thursday with all the rain.
“As we all know it only takes on day of good weather to get these greens reacting so differently. I guess this will be the day. The weekend will be a completely different. After the rain yesterday afternoon without the wind we got the better half of the draw and the scoring will be evident of that after today's play.”
Miguel Angel Jiménez, the only member of Europe's Ryder Cup Team that will head for Valhalla in less than two weeks, shot a two under par round of 69 to improve to five under par.
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