Joint leader Rory McIlroy was enjoying the thrill of competing with some of The European Tour’s brightest stars at the top of the Omega European Masters leaderboard following an intriguing second round in Switzerland.
The US Open Champion fired a 69 at Crans-sur-Sierre to join Irish Open winner Simon Dyson, his fellow Englishman Gary Boyd and Welshman Jamie Donaldson in a share of the half-way lead on eight under.
World Number Five Martin Kaymer is amongst those only one further back, along with overnight leader Nick Dougherty – who will feature at the weekend for the first time in 22 starts – as well as South African Jaco Van Zyl, England’s Danny Willett and Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, while World Number Two Lee Westwood is a shot further back on six under par.
“To have the top guys up there – Lee’s at six, Martin’s at seven and I’m at eight, it’s a great leaderboard,” said McIlroy.
“Then you have Simon Dyson who won in Ireland and Gary Boyd who is looking for his first win and is playing well recently and Jamie Donaldson is very consistent all year. It’s a good leaderboard and great to see the top guys up at the head of affairs. Hopefully we can play some good golf over the weekend and give the crowd some excitement.”
McIlroy believed his round could have been even better, adding: "I gave myself a lot of chances and wasn't able to convert them, which was pretty frustrating.”
The 22 year old Northern Irishman, back in action three weeks after injuring his arm against a tree root at the US PGA Championship, made an eagle two on the driveable seventh, but gave the strokes back with a seven at the long ninth, driving into trouble and then three-putting from only four feet.
His only deviation from par on the back nine was a birdie at the 516 yard 15th, and even there he missed a 14 foot eagle opportunity.
Dyson, trying to follow up his Irish Open success a month ago, shot 68 and commented: "I played solid again and if I keep on like that hopefully I will be right in the mix again.
"The game's as good as it's ever been."
Dougherty, only too aware that he had missed his previous 21 cuts going back to last November, added a 72 to his opening 63.
That dropped the 29 year old to joint fifth, but only a stroke behind as he tries to re-ignite his career and save himself from a return to Qualifying School at the end of the season.
Dougherty admitted: "I had two things in my head - the tournament and getting the monkey of not making a cut off my back.
"I didn't play as well and I had a few iffy breaks, but I suppose you get what you deserve.
"Hopefully I can play with a bit more flair and flamboyance tomorrow. It was a little cagey."
Meanwhile Boyd (69) and Donaldson (66) are chasing their first European Tour titles, but while 24 year old Boyd is in just his second full season on the circuit, 35 year old Donaldson has played approaching 250 events going back a decade.
Former World Number Ones Kaymer and Westwood are only one and two shots back respectively.
Kaymer, round in 70 after double-bogeying the 16th when leading, was pleading for the sort of luck that playing partner Louis Oosthuizen had on the long 14th.
Last year's Open Champion was heading out of bounds with his second shot when it struck a photographer. He birdied the hole and made the cut with nothing to spare at two under.
Westwood had a 69, while current Open Champion Darren Clarke - out of bounds for his double bogey on the fourth - fell back to four under with a 71.
|T3||VAN ZYL, Jaco||RSA||18||-15|
|T6||ANDERSSON HED, Fredrik||SWE||18||-14|